Yoenis Cespedes isn’t full bore yet, but he is going to play anyway.
Two years and one day after his most recent major-league game, Cespedes said Tuesday that the Mets plan for him to be the designated hitter on Opening Day on Friday against the Braves at Citi Field.
Although he is working toward playing without restrictions, especially on defense, he is at least healthy enough to hit. This season, with National League teams allowed to use a DH, that is good enough.
“I can’t give you an exact percentage on where I am right now at the moment, but the way that I feel, I feel ready and I will be ready to play,” Cespedes said through an interpreter.
Manager Luis Rojas added: “Full strength? I mean, right now he’s as strong as you can probably count on with him.”
Still, Cespedes is limited when playing leftfield and running. Even though he was hitless in a pair of exhibition games against the Yankees over the weekend, “I felt a lot better than I thought I would feel,” he said.
Mets trainers advised him to run at about 80% of his full capacity. He said that is why he slowed up in the first inning Saturday night, when he nearly beat out a grounder toward third base for an infield single.
“That was intentional,” Cespedes said. “At first reaction, once I hit the ball, I wanted to go out fast out of the box. But then I remembered what they told me, so that’s why I kind of slowed down.”
One of the larger remaining questions pertains to his ability in the outfield. He played left during the Mets’ intrasquad scrimmage Tuesday but has spent minimal time there recently. Rojas said the Mets have had to balance the defensive aspect with other parts of his rehabilitation from heel surgeries (2018) and a broken ankle (2019).
Cespedes said he doesn't know how his leftfield/DH playing time will be split. Before he proved to be mostly healthy, the Mets planned to use J.D. Davis in left most games.
“I feel comfortable, I want to say, with how he’s looked off the bat moving and everything, but I want to see more action — him making a play, communication and all that,” Rojas said. “But as far as the athleticism and what he’s shown there in the different drills and stuff that we’ve done, he’s looked really good. He looks like the outfield Cespedes that we all know. But we definitely want to see some in-game plays. Those will be really good if we get a couple of those in the next couple of days before the season starts as well.”
Cespedes said: “The way that I’m feeling right now, I can play DH, I can play leftfield. I feel equally confident to be able to do both.”
With those issues present to some degree, Cespedes said his greatest asset isn’t physical.
“The strongest part of me is my mind,” he said. “I think whether it’s a good day or a bad day, my mentality has always been strong. I’ll be ready to play once the time comes.”
That time is almost here. And, for Cespedes and the Mets, time might almost be out. The four-year, $110 million contract he signed after the 2016 season — which was lessened by tens of millions of guaranteed dollars as a result of his interaction with a wild boar last year — is up after this season. Free agency awaits in November.
“This team has a lot of talent, a lot of potential,” he said. “And it is my last year on my deal. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to go out there and give it my 100% and try to make a big run for the World Series.”