OAKLAND, Calif. -- It is the second half of August, which means just about every guy in every clubhouse in professional baseball is “beat up” -- including Mets center fielder Juan Lagares.
"Beat up" is how manager Terry Collins classified Lagares on Wednesday morning before announcing he was giving him the day off, but that didn’t keep Lagares’ play from being a focal point of conversation before the game against the Oakland A's.
New York Mets
Part of the reason Lagares is getting a breather? He is 3-for-28 (.107) in his past nine games, but Collins is seeing slight improvements, such as a 10-pitch at-bat that resulted in a walk in the third inning Tuesday night. Lagares, who batted leadoff, worked the count into his favor at 3-1 before fouling off five consecutive pitches and then coaxing the pass to first base.
Lagares fouled off a total of nine pitches in his four plate appearances, not counting a foul-tip strikeout. He also saw 26 total pitches, the highest number for any player on either team Tuesday.
“He had that one absolutely great at-bat,” Collins said. “That was a tremendous at-bat. That’s what you want to see, that kind of stuff. You want to fight off balls you can’t hit and make [the pitcher] work. Everybody saw it and knows what’s going on.”
Lagares has 772 major league plate appearances, so a touch over what would constitute a full season. He has 137 of those from the leadoff spot, where he has been relatively productive with a .319 on-base percentage. Collins has recognized that trend and said before Tuesday’s game that he could eventually see Lagares as an everyday leadoff man with Curtis Granderson dropping to the second spot. The idea being that if Lagares can up his OBP, it would give the left-handed-hitting Granderson a hole to pull the ball through on the right side.
Of course this is all dependent on whether Lagares can develop into the kind of hitter who consistently puts pressure on a pitcher and defense with his ability to handle the bat. Because of how inept the Mets’ offense has been, these final six weeks of the regular season could be his job interview for that spot in the order.
“He’s going to get it. He’s going to be a good player,” Collins said. “We ask a lot of Juan Lagares for a guy who basically has one full year in the big leagues, but it’s because other guys aren't getting it done. So then you have to look at someone else.”
Applying the brakes: The Mets are the league’s worst-scoring team in August, have the fewest hits, the lowest OBP, slugging percentage and OPS for the month, and have stolen just six bases during the dog days.
While the offense looks for signs of life, Collins said being aggressive on the bases for the sake of being aggressive is not the answer and is more likely to kill rallies than spark them. This is because the Mets lack an instinctive base stealer.
“My experience being around all those baserunners: Guys who want to run, they’ll run. They’re looking to run,” Collins said. “When you put the steal on and guys are iffy, they always come up with reasons why they didn't get a good jump. That’s a bad feeling.”
The team doesn't have seasoned base stealers, meaning guys who might have the necessary instincts don't have the polish to be prolific just yet. And just because a guy is fast doesn't mean he can rack up big steal numbers. Even Granderson has never stolen more than 26 bases in a season.
“I’m a huge believer in baserunning, but sometimes the guys getting on aren't the guys you can run,” Collins said.
“A lot of it [is instinctive]. Jeff Bagwell was the best I’ve ever been around. He stole 31 bases one year. I’ve seen this guy get three steps and the pitcher is still holding the ball. He would just get great jumps.”
Lagares is a guy who could maybe become a steal threat, but he still doesn’t know how to read pitchers well enough, according to Collins, comparing his lack of experience to the Los Angeles Dodgers' concerns with Yasiel Puig on the bases.
Colon bereavement update: The Mets know when Bartolo Colon will return to the rotation, but Collins was not ready to share that information publicly before Wednesday’s game. Colon’s next turn would come Sunday against the Dodgers.
Injury news: Left-hander Dana Eveland is unavailable against Oakland because of tendinitis in his elbow, or what he referred to as “tennis elbow.” Eveland said he’s always had soreness there for much of his career, and he’s pitched through it this season, but it finally became too much to deal with, and the medical staff gave him a cortisone shot.
Eveland will play catch Thursday and plans to throw a bullpen before Friday’s game to determine his availability.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis was scheduled to start in right field, but the stiff neck that shut him down Tuesday was still too painful to keep him in the lineup Wednesday. Matt den Dekker replaced Lagares in center, while Eric Campbell was inserted at DH, and Granderson shifted from DH to right field in place of Nieuwenhuis.