JUPITER, Fla. – The Mets productive spring training offense has the burden of proving it’s not a fluke.
Manager Mickey Callaway recently said we’ll be seeing more and more of the Mets regular lineup as Grapefruit League games come to a close. Digging into the plate each and every day, hitters are starting to look more comfortable as they get into the routine of seeing live pitches.
Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, Robinson Cano, Michael Conforto, Amed Rosario and Juan Lagares combined for nine of the Mets 11 hits on Saturday. What now seems like habit for the offense in camp, the lineup kept the train moving as seven out of eight starting position players reached base via a base hit.
That’s all well and good in spring training, but it will only matter if the Mets offense can sustain quality production against top starters in the regular season.
The Mets have a multifaceted approach to getting on base thanks to hitting coach Chili Davis. Conforto said Davis stresses situational hitting and loading up the bases for RBI base hits and rallies rather than solo homers.
“Pitchers don’t like to throw with runners on,” Conforto said. “And that’s where we apply the pressure. It’s not like solo homers are bad, but that’s how you rally.”
In his age-26 season, Conforto is proving he’s a fast learner. The outfielder hit a two-run to deep right field to put the Mets on the board in the first, then added an RBI single against the shift in the third.
Callaway believes the early and aggressive offensive approach will expose the team to better opportunities down the stretch.
“If they’re going to shift us, then let’s beat the shift,” Callaway said. “Sooner or later they’re going to stop shifting these guys and they’re going to open up the whole field for us again. And then more homers might come. So I love the approach.”
If the lineup is just getting warmed up, Mets fans have reason to believe the offense can carry a bit of its renewed energy into the regular season.
McNeil enters Sunday hitting .324 with two homers and three RBIs, Alonso has a 1.040 OPS, Cano is hitting .457 with two homers and five runs scored and Rosario is batting .400 with a pair of homers.
“Just by talking to guys, I know everybody is really excited to get going north,” Conforto said. “Spring seems to get a little earlier and a little bit longer. Some guys show up earlier than others. We’ve gotten a lot of really good work here. We can still use these games to practice a lot of things we’re trying to do this year. But everyone is excited for the season.”
VARGAS BURNS OUT
Jason Vargas went from owning a 0.72 ERA to a 3.65 ERA in a matter of an inning. The southpaw began his fourth start of spring training just as efficiently as his previous three outings. Vargas shut down the Marlins lineup for four scoreless innings, allowing two hits and one walk with four strikeouts.
The 36-year-old came back out for the fifth inning and everything went downhill. He gave up a single, a walk and back-to-back doubles before exiting the game with two of his runners on base. Robert Gsellman couldn’t contain his inherited runners and Vargas’ spring ERA skyrocketed.
Of course, the Mets are still competing in the Grapefruit League and results don’t carry as much weight. But the left-hander’s fifth-inning collapse proved Vargas can only throw so many pitches before running out of steam.
With Vargas serving as the fifth starter and the Mets being prepared for damage control with a loaded bullpen, it’s likely the team is not expecting the left-hander to throw beyond five innings.