WASHINGTON — It had been mere hours since Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes limped off the field. The night before, he was hobbled by a cramp that seized his right hamstring as he slid for a game-saving catch, an attempt that was ultimately unsuccessful.
Yet, Cespedes insisted upon starting Tuesday’s 11-4 loss to the Nationals, a request that was denied. So went what has been an awkward dance between the Mets and their highest-paid star player.
“He’s not happy about it and I like that,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “I like the fact that he wants to play. But we’ve got to be smart about today.”
At one point this season, Collins had too many outfielders to juggle. Now, he barely has any left.
Though Cespedes is expected to play in Wednesday’s series finale, he did not appear in Tuesday’s loss. Curtis Granderson was relegated to pinch-hitting duty, a late scratch because he’s still bothered by a sore right hip that has kept him from starting since Saturday.
When he tried warming up before the game, Granderson felt lingering stiffness, leaving doubt about whether he could chase down drives into the gap. He decided against pressing the issue.
Said Granderson: “There was more risk rather than reward to do that.”
In the seventh inning, fill-in leftfielder T.J. Rivera left in the middle of the seventh inning with cramps in both of his legs. For now, he expects to be available on Wednesday.
“I thought it would go away,” said Rivera, who felt the cramps in the outfield before dealing with them again when running to first base.
By first pitch on Tuesday, Jay Bruce was the Mets’ only healthy regular outfielder, with both Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares already on the disabled list.
Said Collins: “Hopefully, we’ll get back to full strength here.”
It begins with Cespedes, who Collins said is expected to return two days after feeling a cramp while trying to make a sliding catch on Ryan Raburn’s game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth on Monday.
For Collins, Cespedes’ history of leg injuries made it easy to stick with his original intent to rest Cespedes on Tuesday especially with more heat and humidity in the forecast.
“I talked to Yo this morning,” Collins said. “He wanted to play. I get it. I think it’s great. But the fact that he cramped up last night, the dehydration is just an issue. We cannot afford to have him blow out that hammy again and miss him for two months.”
Cespedes has already missed 37 games on the disabled list, first with a left hamstring strain, and then with a right quad injury that slowed down his minor-league rehab.
Since going 3-for-5 with a double and a homer against the Giants on June 23, Cespedes has hit the skids. In the eight games since that outburst, he’s hitting .152 (5-for-33) with no extra base hits.
“It tells you how hard the game is,” Collins said. “The best of the best slump. He’ll get it going.”