Matt den Dekker will chip away at Juan Lagares' playing time in center field down the stretch.NEW YORK -- Terry Collins plans to get Matt den Dekker his first major league start in Thursday’s matinee.
Collins said den Dekker will play center field, his natural position. It is unresolved whether Juan Lagares will shift to right field for the series finale against the Philadelphia Phillies, or whether Andrew Brown will start there.
Make no mistake, though: den Dekker and Lagares will be starting together at times, with Lagares getting pushed to the corner.
“You’re going to see them out there together,” Collins said. “We’re talking about the possibility of doing that tomorrow. I’m not sure that’s going to happen tomorrow. But Matt’s going to play tomorrow. He’s going to play center field. I don’t think it’s really fair to Matt to play him in a game in a position he’s not comfortable in. So I’m going to put him in center field.”
Den Dekker, despite being known for his speed, also has some power. He hit 17 homers in 2011 in the minors, then duplicated that number against last year.
The challenge, Collins noted, is for den Dekker to keep his strikeout total in check. He struck out 46 times in 179 at-bats with Triple-A Las Vegas this season after returning from a fractured right wrist. Last year, he struck out 154 times in 533 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A.
“I just want to see how his plate discipline is,” Collins said. “In his career in the minor leagues, obviously, he’s put up some power numbers, but he’s had some high strikeout numbers. They’re telling me he’s really worked hard at a two-strike approach. I want to see him apply it up here. I’m anxious to see how he handles everything up here, because obviously we know he can play defense.”
Collins acknowledged den Dekker tends to take until a second season in a league to really start excelling.
Case in point: He hit .235 during the second half of the 2011 season at Binghamton, then .340 the first half of the following season there. And he hit .220 in Buffalo during the season half of last season, and hit .296 in Triple-A this year with the Mets having moved to Las Vegas.
“He’s actually gone to a level, played OK, and then all of a sudden they adjust to him,” Collins said. “And then he’s taken a little while to make the adjustment back. Each year that he’s gone back to the league from the year before, he’s torn it up, because he’s smart enough to know the changes he’s had to make. …
“I just think right now it’s time to see how he does, see how he handles it. Is he going to lay off the pitches he swung at in the minor leagues? That’s going to be a big issue here, to certainly shrink that strike zone a little bit more, because these guys won’t throw you any strikes if they don’t have to.”