Wilmer Flores went from the starting shortstop in the World Series to a backup the minute the Mets made the unexpected free-agent signing of Asdrubal Cabrera this offseason.
It’s tough to be a bench player at age 24. But Flores isn’t going to cry about it.
“I’ve been taking ground balls everywhere,” Flores said Saturday night before going 0-for-2 with two walks and a lineout to short for the final out in the Mets’ 1-0 loss to the Phillies. “It won’t affect me at all. What got me here was my bat, right? All I want to get is my four at-bats and see what I can do.”
Flores, whose on-field tears made him a Mets icon when he was almost traded to the Brewers last July, started his first game at third base in place of the resting David Wright. Flores is also the team’s primary backup at shortstop, second and first, the last one a position he has never played in the majors.
If the Mets don’t suffer any major infield injuries, most of Flores’ time should come at third. Wright will be a seasonlong (and contractlong) question mark because of his spinal stenosis.
Manager Terry Collins added an interesting wrinkle to the Wright situation Saturday night. On the days Wright does not start, Collins said he might not be able to use the Mets captain at all, especially if the weather is cold (41 degrees at first pitch Saturday).
“I just don’t know how much time he’s going to need to get himself loosened up,” Collins said. “My guess is we will not have him on those certain nights. When it warms up, we might.”
But after the game, Collins tweaked the narrative a little, saying that Wright offered to pinch hit Saturday, and Collins said he planned to use him if the order had gotten around to the pitcher again.
Flores came in with one at-bat in the Mets’ first three games. In 2015, he hit .263 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs. Perhaps more significantly, Flores proved himself to be mighty mentally tough playing under a withering spotlight.
It may seem like a million years ago, but last spring and summer, Flores’ every move at short was being scrutinized — and fairly so as it was unclear if he could play the position well enough on a team that hoped to contend.
Oh, did they contend, all the way to the World Series, and Flores was a big part of that. There was the tear-soaked night of the trade that wasn’t, and the heartfelt “Wil-mer Flo-res” chants, and the 12th-inning walk-off home run against the Nationals two nights later.
Mostly, there was surprisingly solid play at short and enough thump in the bat to justify the experiment. But Sandy Alderson wanted more certainty in the middle of the diamond. Enter Cabrera. Exit Flores from the starting lineup on most nights.
Flores said Collins told him Friday to be ready to start Saturday night at third. It’s a heads-up Flores appreciated, but said isn’t really necessary.
“Either way,” Flores said. “I don’t care. It’s better for me to come here with the mentality that I’m going to play every day.”
Before Friday’s home opener, Flores was introduced as the first reserve because his No. 4 is the lowest uniform number. He received one of the largest ovations. He smiled sheepishly and waved.
Guys always say they’re just happy to be here. Flores isn’t just saying it. Mets fans know it, and they appreciate it. No more tears. Just cheers.
“It feels good,” Flores said. “Every time you go out there and you feel the warmth. When they cheer for you, it’s really cool.”