PITTSBURGH -- Terry Collins said Eric Campbell is his backup shortstop, but the manager hopes to never use Campbell at the position.
The Mets decided to demote backup middle infielder Wilmer Flores with the activation of Juan Lagares for Thursday's series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates. That left an imbalance, with six outfielders and only one backup infielder -- Campbell.
Campbell Campbell has played two career professional games at shortstop -- both this season with Las Vegas. He had a week stint at Boston College at shortstop when the starter got injured, but he otherwise has not played the position since high school, while growing up in Connecticut.
"I think the biggest difference here is the fields are much nicer, so groundballs, you're not getting those tricky hops like you do in Vegas," Campbell said. "Obviously the speed of the game is a little faster here, but I think it might be a little more easy fielding those groundballs here than it is down there."
In perhaps at least a modest acknowledgement of a potential Daniel Murphy trade, Collins told Flores after relaying word of the demotion: "If something happens, at least you're playing. When you get called up, you're going to be in the lineup. So make sure you're ready. You need to play second and short, because you never know what's going to happen in the next few weeks."
With a team off-day next Thursday, Collins suggested Ruben Tejada should start every game until the All-Star break. If Tejada were to become injured, Campbell (or, otherwise, Eric Young Jr.) would complete that game at shortstop and the Mets would place a call to Las Vegas for the next game.
"This is a good chance for Ruben to realize he's the guy," Collins said. "Now take it and run with it."
With Collins preferring to use Tejada at shortstop the bulk of the time in recent weeks, Flores had seen minimal action. So the Mets decided it would be worthwhile to get him at-bats in Triple-A. Flores will play shortstop and second base with the 51s.
"We all like Wilmer a lot," Collins said. "And he proved he can play shortstop in the major leagues here. For him to be the kind of player we all expect him to be, he's got to play. He's got to be in the lineup. And he's not getting a chance to be in the lineup. His bat, which everybody says is going to be the thing that's going to make him special, he's got to get at-bats to stay consistent."
Even more importantly in explaining the Flores demotion, the Mets wanted to maintain the most potent bench they could. And so Collins preferred keeping Kirk Nieuwenhuis at the major league level, if for nothing more than pinch-hitting duty, even if that meant an infield-outfield imbalance.
Collins said he would not be inclined to pinch hit for Tejada and then have Campbell finish a game at shortstop.
As for the outfield configuration with the glut, Collins is starting Bobby Abreu on Thursday in left field. But the manager said that does not mean Abreu will be a regular. The manager suggested he just wanted to get Abreu one game to keep him sharp for pinch-hitting duty, since Abreu has had only one at-bat since starting last Friday in Miami.
Meanwhile, with the Pirates slated to throw four right-handed starters this series, Chris Young is likely limited to pinch-hitting duty against Pirates lefty relievers Tony Watson and Justin Wilson. Collins noted the Mets are likely to see southpaws the first two games of the next series in Atlanta, so C.Y. should see action those games.