During a difficult September, the Mets have waited for players with established résumés to become the players they have been in the past.
Before a game in which he placed Mark Vientos in the middle of the order, Buck Showalter signaled he is open to ignoring that back-of-the-baseball-card history if a new applicant impresses quickly.
“Oh, yeah. Get hot first,” the Mets manager said when asked if he would be open to riding an unproven bat such as Vientos’. “Like a big horse, I’ll ride it.”
The rookie has not found many opportunities since being called up, but more would appear if he performs.
Vientos, who went 0-for-4, batting fifth and was the designated hitter for the Mets’ 6-3 loss to the Cubs Wednesday night at Citi Field, the first game the 22-year-old would start in Queens. Darin Ruf — who has been in an abysmal slump since arriving at the trade deadline — started in right field against Chicago lefty Drew Smyly, the Mets stacking as many righties in their order as possible. Ruf went 1-for-2 in the loss.
In the past, Showalter has repeatedly stated the Mets rely on track records, and Ruf’s track record — he entered play with an .897 lifetime OPS against southpaws — suggests the 36-year-old will come around.
But if Vientos’ bat gets hot, the Mets would have a decision to make at DH against lefty starters. Before his third career major league game, Vientos said he “absolutely” wants to run with this chance.
“Just do my thing out there and not try to do too much,” said Vientos, who pinch hit Tuesday and flew out. “Just help the team as much as I can with whatever situation I get put in.”
The Mets’ designated-hitter spot, a weakness they believed they strengthened at the trade deadline with Ruf and Daniel Vogelbach, has reverted to the black hole it once was. Entering play, their DHes had posted a .320 OPS in September, the worst in baseball. The lefty-hitting Vogelbach was 5 for his past 42 (.119), and the righty-hitting Ruf was hitting .137 in his first 23 games with the Mets.
The Mets called up the power-hitting Vientos last weekend, when Starling Marte’s IL stint opened up a spot for a righty bat.
Vientos has been trying to keep his rhythm despite sporadic at-bats while breathing in his first days as a major leaguer — spent in the heat of a pennant race.
“Just enjoying it. Enjoying the atmosphere. Enjoying being here at Citi Field with the team that I signed with,” said Vientos, whose parents flew in from Florida and who was expecting a sizable cheering section that included his uncle’s family and godfather’s family. “It’s just exciting.”
Vientos feasted on lefties with Triple-A Syracuse, batting .330 with 13 home runs in just 112 at-bats against southpaws this year.
The Mets were resistant to call up the suspect infielder, though, and wound up adding Ruf from the Giants instead of promoting internally. Vientos said he just tried to focus on improving.
He told himself that “when I get the opportunity, I’m going to be ready for it.”
To prove himself at the big-league level, he will have to be. The Mets are set to face four righty starters in their series in Pittsburgh that begins Thursday. The following series will be against the Brewers, whose two lefty starters, Aaron Ashby and Eric Lauer, currently are on the injured list.
In the near future, Vientos and Ruf likely will be Showalter’s top options off the bench to pinch hit for Vogelbach or a catcher late in games against lefties. The manager said he is “eager” to see more of Vientos, but the rookie would have to leapfrog Ruf to be the first bat out of the dugout.
So as Vientos tries to appreciate each day he is in the majors, he also has a path — narrow as it may be — to prove he belongs on this roster and the postseason roster.
“Just staying mentally locked in, whatever situation I get put in,” Vientos said. “I enjoy every day coming out here and living my dream, being with the guys and learning from them.”