Mets manger Buck Showalter pauses before coming on the field...

Mets manger Buck Showalter pauses before coming on the field for a baseball workout at Nationals Park, Wednesday, April 6, 2022, in Washington.  Credit: AP

WASHINGTON -- There are two reasons why the Mets hired Buck Showalter back in December.

Primarily, it was to protect Steve Cohen’s sizable investment in the 2022 team, which is more than $280 million. When the new owner pledges a World Series title in the next few years, and ponies up the cash for that specific goal, he wants a manager like Showalter because -- to put it bluntly -- he won’t screw things up.

The other purpose? That’s what the Mets are living right now in the countdown to Thursday’s season-opening matchup against the Nationals in D.C. The best time to have Showalter in the dugout is when plans go sideways, such as three-fifths of the rotation coming up lame in the final week of spring training, and Tylor Megill being thrust into the role of Opening Day starter.

This was no simmering crisis. The Mets had 18 days of relative tranquility in Port St. Lucie, mostly everyone staying on schedule, with a shockingly OK team-wide medical report. And then, without warning, people started breaking over the last six days.

Jacob deGrom’s shoulder blade stress reaction. Max Scherzer’s hamstring. Taijuan Walker’s surgically-repaired knee. Even a cortisone shot for Brandon Nimmo’s neck issue, effectively benching the starting centerfielder for Opening Day.

The problems snowballed quickly. One after the other, though it was really nothing that Showalter hadn’t seen before, in some fashion, after managing four teams over the past three decades. Assembling the roster may be the job of GM Billy Eppler, but Showalter is responsible for getting those players to perform, and that includes not making excuses for the replacements.

“Nobody wants to hear you complain about it and we’re not going to,” Showalter said during Wednesday’s workout at Nationals Park. “It’s part of the gig. It’s like I told the coaches, it’s why we’re here and robots aren’t running the game. The relationships, the what ifs, the things you prepare for. I won’t say culture, but the atmosphere you keep through these things.”

It’s the difference between having Showalter or his predecessor, Luis Rojas, who just didn’t possess the managerial gravitas yet to prevent brush fires from turning into clubhouse-devouring infernos. That’s not meant to be a knock on Luis. Rather, it's just a fact with a first-timer compared with a three-time Manager of the Year with more than 3,000 major-league games on his resume.

The pressure on Buck to deliver a playoff berth this season is off the charts. It would be for anyone, given the money Cohen already has spent, and you could argue that Showalter has never faced expectations quite this high for an Opening Day. Even during his Bronx tenure, those ’95 Yankees were still on the rise, returning amid the smoldering disarray of a labor battle that wiped out the previous World Series. Under Showalter, they finally ended a 14-year playoff drought, earning the first-ever wild card.

These Mets are coming off a 77-win season, but the hype surrounding them has been impossible to contain. That’s where Showalter comes in. Rather than be bulldozed by this recent string of bad news, days before the curtain goes up, he’s got a history of finding solutions -- or at least making the most of the workable alternatives.

“Experience matters,” Eppler said Wednesday. “He’s lived through probably a lot of different circumstances, so he’s ready to roll. I’m glad that he’s in the position that he’s in because he’s handled a lot of stuff before.”

From a Mets’ perspective, this particular brand of stuff definitely had the potential to be demoralizing. DeGrom isn’t just any ace, he’s a two-time Cy Young winner and perhaps the most untouchable pitcher in the sport. Now he’s gone until at least June. Scherzer has three Cy Young trophies and luring him to Flushing with a record three-year, $130-million contract was a real coup for the Mets. As of Wednesday, Scherzer still had not been totally cleared for Friday’s start and Showalter raised the possibility he could be pushed back until next week. Walker isn’t in their class, but as the No. 4 starter, the rotation starts to get awfully thin from there.

“Buck always talks about the what ifs,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner said. “We’re prepared.”

That last part comes up quite a bit in conversations about Showalter. If there’s a route to victory without deGrom or Scherzer or Walker, it’s his job to put the Mets on that track. That starts immediately with Opening Day.

“This is what we do,” Showalter said. “You can’t sit there and go, if this happens, then we’ve got to do this. You’ve got to know your players, you’ve got to know your personalities, you’ve got to know the people feeding you the information. There’s a lot of things that go on.”

Showalter is acutely aware of all of them.  That’s why he’s wearing orange-and-blue this Opening Day, for the start of a season he hopes to end with a championship -- and a World Series ring that’s eluded him all this time.

“I don’t think we’re going to lose a game this year because Buck wasn’t prepared,” Nimmo said Wednesday.

The Mets are banking on that.

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