Just twenty games into this virus-truncated season, it’s not a stretch to say the Mets could be on the brink of the Andres Gimenez Era at shortstop.
Because right now, Amed Rosario’s claim to the job title is by name only after he was kept out of the starting lineup Thursday -- due to a lingering “stomach bug” -- for the third consecutive game.
More and more, we’re beginning to think that bug wears No. 60.
What else could we believe? While the Mets remained content to have Rosario stay hydrating in the dugout -- yet available to play, manager Luis Rojas said -- Gimenez has flashed the best defense at short since Rey Ordonez wowed Flushing, only with the ability to help with his bat, too.
Gimenez went 1-for-3 with a walk Thursday in the Mets’ 8-2 victory over the Nationals, raising his batting average to .286 (14-for-49) with two triples and seven runs scored. He also stole his fifth base (and is yet to be caught) to earn him a share of the top spot in the majors. Only two Mets have swiped more through their first 19 career games -- Lenny Dykstra (seven) and Keith Miller (six).
Going beyond the box score, give the precocious Gimenez, 21, credit for a productive out in the fifth inning, when he moved Dominic Smith to third base by hitting a grounder to the right side. Sounds simple, but few players these days do the fundamentals correctly and Gimenez has shined on those occasions.
It’s undeniable the Mets are a better team with the versatile Gimenez in the lineup anywhere, but eventually Rojas could be forced to admit they’re best with him at shortstop. For now, however, the manager insists that Rosario still owns the job.
When asked Thursday why that’s the case, Rojas basically deferred to the fact that Rosario entered the year as the incumbent.
“Since Day One of this season, Rosie’s been our everyday shortstop,” Rojas said before the series finale against the Nats. “We’re comfortable with him, he can make the plays, and he's our shortstop.
“He hasn’t been in the lineup because he hasn't been able to the last couple of days and we're looking to getting him back on track. We had some conversations about his approach on the plate. We know that he could do damage at the plate.”
So which is it? Was Rosario actually too sick to play? Or were the Mets giving him a chance to mentally reset, as well as tinker with a few things, after starting the season with an identical batting average and on-base percentage -- .207 -- and nearly as many strikeouts (11) as hits (12).
This year, above all others, provides a convenient excuse to rip up any preseason blueprints or go with a quick hook. The Mets already have done that with J.D. Davis and Jeff McNeil switching spots -- Davis going to third base and McNeill to leftfield, which has improved the team’s defense overall. McNeil was removed from Thursday’s game in the first inning after crashing into the leftfield wall for a spectacular catch and the team later described him as day-to-day with bone contusion of the left knee (imaging tests were negative).
It’s likely that McNeil may need a few games to recover, but Rojas suggested Davis would remain at third rather than go back to leftfield. So Rosario’s return would only leave second base for Gimenez, with the suddenly hot-hitting Luis Guillorme (not a misprint) back on the bench.
The Mets were thrilled this week by the double-play combo of Gimenez and Guillorme, with the two drawing raves from the pitching staff. But the safe move for now is just to slide Gimenez to second when Rosario is ready given that Robinson Cano -- still rehabbing from a Grade 2 groin strain -- can be used at DH, which seems to be Rojas’ plan.
As for Rosario, Rojas mentioned how the team is still working with him on moving laterally at short and his reactions off the bat. Based on Thursday’s pregame media briefing, it sounds like Rojas expects Rosario to return to the lineup Friday. But could the urgency of this short schedule ultimately result in going with Gimenez at short if Rosario doesn’t rebound quickly?
“That's really tough to anticipate,” Rojas said. “Andres has played so well at short and second base. But we trust Rosie too -- how good a player he is and the plays he can make. So as far as anticipating it or when we're going to do it, there's no timeline to do anything right now.
“Playing games and seeing how they guys are performing is what's going to give us back some of those decisions. We'll see what we have, probably starting [Friday] with the starting lineup. Today we’re going to play the Nationals and then we’ll get ready for what’s next.”
If what’s next is Rosario still hydrating, and Gimenez back at shortstop Friday in Philadelphia, the questions will continue.