PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Wilmer Flores never fully embraced his role early last season, when the Mets tasked him with becoming a utilityman. Only later in the year, when injuries led to more playing time, did Flores’ production perk up.
But one year later, Flores again finds himself stuck. His playing time will be dictated by the veteran infielders ahead of him, and the opposing pitcher. He’ll play against lefties and sit against righties, slapped with limits when he believes he can do more.
“You take what they give you,” Flores said Friday, when he offered a reminder of the pop in his bat in the Mets’ 16-2 thumping of the Cardinals in Grapefruit League play.
Flores lined a two-run double and hit a grand slam off righthander Adam Wainwright, who allowed 10 runs and seven hits in 1 2⁄3 innings. But if all goes according to plan, he won’t be playing every day.
Flores has been blunt about his experience last year, which he said made him no better equipped to deal with similar circumstances this year. “Not really,” he said. “Because you can’t get used to [not playing].”
Manager Terry Collins matched that bluntness, leaving little ambiguity about what’s expected from Flores.
“The one thing about his situation is you don’t have to like it; you’ve got to accept it and be ready to play,” Collins said.
Flores, 25, had no issues bouncing around the infield. He saw action at first, second, shortstop and third. But dealing with long stretches without regular at-bats was a different matter. He batted .180 through the first 32 games last season, when he started only 12 times and often was used as a pinch hitter. He was out for a few weeks with a hamstring issue.
By the time Flores returned on May 29, injuries had opened more chances to play regularly. In the Mets’ next 93 games, he started 66 times. In that span, he hit .284/.332/.506 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs. Against lefties, Flores posted a 1.093 OPS. His season was cut short because of a hamate bone injury that required offseason surgery.
For Flores, the difference rested solely with playing time, yet his role is clear. He will play against lefthanders. Everything else is uncertain.
“When you’re out there playing every day, it makes everything easier,” he said. “I know I can play at the big-league level . . . I know I can play every day. But it’s not my choice whenever it comes to when I play.”
Notes & quotes: Steven Matz allowed one run in 3 2⁄3 innings in his third start. Matz also picked off Tommy Pham at first, a sign of improvement as the lefty looks to get better at keeping baserunners honest . . . Reliever Fernando Salas remains in Mexico to procure a work visa that will allow him to pitch in Grapefruit League games. Collins hopes he returns next week. He’s been limited to two live game appearances in the World Baseball Classic . . . Noah Syndergaard’s next appearance comes Saturday in a minor- league game in Port St. Lucie . . . Catching prospect Tomas Nido was optioned to minor-league camp.