The Mets have a nice record so far, even after another loss to the Nationals on Saturday night, and they’ve shown signs in the season’s first few weeks that this could be more than just another year with an empty September.
While that’s created a little bit more of an atmosphere at Citi Field, even on nights when the club isn’t giving away a Jacob deGrom Garden Gnome, it’s also going to bring more scrutiny, even in this hyper-aware town. The stakes are higher now, what with the Mets (mostly) backing up all their high-hopes talk at 16-9.
Which is why we’re all so closely watching what happens with struggling shortstop Wilmer Flores.
Flores did not start Saturday night’s 1-0 loss to Washington, the Nats’ 16th win in their last 18 games at Citi Field. It was a planned day off, and Flores had been told about it on Friday before he cratered in a “Golden Sombrero” disaster, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts. He also made his seventh error of the season in only 22 games. He has two hits in his last 20 at-bats.
But Terry Collins revealed before Saturday’s game that the Mets are considering giving Flores Sunday off, too, which would mean the shortstop would have a three-day weekend because of Monday’s off-day.
It could be an opportunity, Collins said, to let Flores simply exhale. He did not indicate it was anything deeper, so put your Matt Reynolds jerseys away. Collins and GM Sandy Alderson have given Flores votes of confidence that the shortstop job is his, at least for now. Alderson even told reporters Friday, “He’s got plenty of room.”
Still, the Mets have made it clear that they will act if they feel there’s an upgrade to be made, which is what they did Friday when they called up Dilson Herrera and moved Daniel Murphy to third while David Wright’s hamstring continues healing. A team fueled by pitching needs good gloves up the middle.
So maybe keep that Reynolds jersey handy, after all? Hmmm. Scouts say Reynolds can handle short in the majors defensively — one describes him as “Steady Eddie” in the field — and he has got a .930 OPS at Triple-A. Inflated by the offense-friendly Pacific Coast League? Sure, but still pretty darn glitzy, along with a .326 average.
And Ruben Tejada at least showed flashes Saturday of the player the Mets once thought held such promise. He was 1-for-3 with two strikeouts and made two sharp plays in the field.
Does Flores make the play Tejada did in the sixth with runners on second and third and two out? Who knows — but Tejada did.
Michael Taylor hit a grounder toward the hole between short and third and Tejada backhanded the ball, stopped and fired a strong throw to first, keeping the score at 1-0. In the ninth, he made another nice play going to his left.
Even Collins admits that if Flores is starting to founder, “That becomes a huge issue for the manager.
“Not only when to give him a day off, but even during those days off to make sure that he’s still a relevant piece of the puzzle,” Collins added. “Not just, ‘Hey look, go sit on the end of the bench, I don’t want to see you today.’
“You got to be very careful, because the mental psyche of a young player can affect him for a long time.”
The question for Collins and Alderson may become whether that matters anymore, seeing how much the Mets’ prime directive has shifted. Collins is no longer managing a squad that hopes its young players bloom for some far-flung fantasy of “next year.”
This is less about development and more about winning now, something the Mets haven’t really been able to say with this much conviction recently.
As such, anything the Mets do or don’t do is magnified. Especially when a team that began the season at the same clip as some of the best clubs in franchise history has now lost six of its last nine games.
Collins said he talked to Flores after Friday’s poor game, where another strong outing by Matt Harvey reduced the spotlight’s glare on the shortstop. “You can tell that this guy just needs to take a deep breath and forget about it for a day,” Collins said.
Extra time off, Collins hopes, could be a chance for Flores to “get some energy back and forget about what’s happened and let’s move forward. Every time you deal with a young player there’s a lot of thought each and every day about how to go about getting him ready to play.”
The easy answer for Collins is that it all works out — Flores gets his rest, gets refreshed and plays well enough to keep his job. Tejada gets games so he’s ready to play if and when he’s called upon off the bench. Collins handles one of the workaday tasks of a big-league manager before it becomes that huge issue.
If it’s anything more, well, we’ll all be watching, Mets.
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