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Terry Collins becoming more predictable about the rotation hitting eighth

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard puts

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard puts down a sacrifice bunt during the third inning of a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Friday, May 22, 2015. Credit: AP / Gene J. Puskar

It was an idea that Mets manager Terry Collins began kicking around in 2014 spring training: batting the pitcher eighth to get a "second leadoff man" in the ninth spot for the top of the order to drive in.

Collins employed the strategy only 10 times in 2014, however. Hardly enough to see if the maneuver is worth all of the attention it receives (which, much to Collins' chagrin, is a lot.)

"I think way too much is made of it," Collins said recently. Well, here we go again . . .

This spring, Collins said he was thinking about doing it more often, about having Juan Lagares bat ninth behind his good-hitting pitchers if the centerfielder wasn't the actual leadoff man.

Collins has been true to the plan, especially during the last two weeks, when his pitcher has hit eighth five times. Some faint patterns have begun to emerge that might allow us to predict under what circumstances Collins will bat the pitcher eighth.

The Mets' starters hit eighth six times in the season's first 42 games through Friday. Really, it's six out of a possible 39 games (15 percent) because the Mets used the designated hitter for three games in interleague play at Yankee Stadium last month.

After batting Jacob deGrom eighth and Wilmer Flores ninth in the second game of the season, Collins didn't do it again until May 12 at Wrigley Field in Noah Syndergaard's big-league debut. Perhaps spurred on by his friend, Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who routinely hits his pitcher eighth, Collins put Syndergaard ahead of Ruben Tejada on May 12.

Last week, Collins used the strategy in four consecutive games (May 16-19).

Jacob deGrom hit ahead of Flores in a 14-1 win over the Brewers on May 16 and went 3-for-3 with an RBI. Flores hit a grand slam.

The next day, Syndergaard (0-for-2) hit eighth with Lagares (2-for-4) ninth as the Mets beat the Brewers, 5-1.

Then Matt Harvey (0-for-2) was in the order ahead of Lagares (1-for-5) in a 2-1, 14-inning win over the Cardinals on Monday. Finally, on Tuesday, Jon Niese (0-for-2) hit eighth with Lagares (1-for-3) ninth, but it didn't matter much as Niese was hit hard in a 10-2 loss to St. Louis.

Collins didn't do it Wednesday because the entertaining (but very poor-hitting) Bartolo Colon started for the Mets. And he didn't do it with the lefty-swinging deGrom on Thursday because the Cardinals started a lefthanded pitcher.

So here, as best as we can determine, are the loose rules of when the Mets may and may not bat the pitcher eighth:

YES if the pitcher is the lefthanded-swinging deGrom, Niese or Syndergaard and the opposing pitcher is righthanded;

YES if the pitcher is Harvey;

NO if the pitcher is Colon or Dillon Gee, another poor hitter;

YES a lot more if Collins had someone he considered a second leadoff guy, as the Cubs have in second baseman Addison Russell, who hit ninth in all four games when Chicago swept the Mets on May 11-14.

"I look at what Joe's done in Chicago, and they've got the ideal guy," Collins said. "They've basically got a second leadoff hitter batting ninth. If we had that guy, we'd do it every day, too, but we don't. The guy we have is Juan, and I don't want to hit him ninth. I want to get him up there more than three times if I can."

Having said that, Collins has hit Lagares ninth three times this season, the most of any position player.

Even if he has the opportunity, Collins might decide not to hit the pitcher eighth for reasons at this point known only to the manager and the other Mets decision-makers.

For example, on Friday in Pittsburgh, Collins hit Syndergaard ninth against righthander Gerrit Cole.

Circumstances virtually identical to Syndergaard's previous outing, but the pitcher did not move up a spot.

So the idea still is a work in progress, obviously.

"You know," Collins said, "outside of the first inning, it's a lineup. It doesn't really matter. What it does do is when you put a lineup together . . . it's nice to have another guy on base, and a lot of times it's not going to be the pitcher. So you add that potential of having another guy who can get on ahead of the top of the lineup. And that's all it is."

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