In the sixth inning Saturday against the Nationals at Citi Field, Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes stood on third base with Wilmer Flores at the plate and nobody out. In a 1-1 count, Flores laced a line drive to right field directly at Bryce Harper. On contact, it was unclear if the ball was hit deep enough to score the run.
Harper made the catch, and Cespedes – despite his hamstring issues – took off for home, accelerating into a full-tilt sprint. Harper wound up and gunned a one-bounce throw to home. Cespedes slid in feet-first and beat catcher Jose Lobaton’s tag by milliseconds.
The Mets went on to fall to the Nationals, 7-4, for their third straight loss to the N.L East leaders. But it wasn’t because of Cespedes, who showcased considerable mobility and went 4-for-5 with a homer and three runs in the defeat.
Nonetheless, Terry Collins said after Saturday’s game that the Mets are still going to keep Cespedes out of the lineup Sunday as originally planned. As of Saturday night, Collins believed Cespedes would be available as a pinch hitter in the series finale as the Mets try to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of their division rivals.
When asked if Cespedes is close to where Collins wants him to be physically, the Mets skipper said, “There’s no question he is.”
“But we’re going to continue to follow our plan,” Collins continued. “Because if something happens tomorrow, the first question would be, ‘Why didn’t you follow your plan?'”
In his first at-bat Saturday, Cespedes drilled a ball off Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg and hustled down the line for an infield single. In his second at-bat in the fourth, Cespedes led off with a second infield single, this time beating out a grounder to the hole in between short and third. He then went first-to-third on Jay Bruce’s line-drive single and scored when Flores grounded into a double play.
In the sixth, Cespedes singled to right and ran first-to-third again on another Bruce single. And in the eighth, Cespedes crushed a Joe Blanton 3-2 slider inside the left-field foul pole for a solo home run, his eighth of the season.
“I’m going to tell you something: The way he played today, that woke some guys up, because you know he’s close to being in that lineup every day,” Collins said. “And when he plays like that, we’re going to be dangerous.”
Cespedes missed more than a month earlier this season with a hamstring strain. He returned June 10 and has been out of the lineup three times in the week since.
But if Saturday was any indication, Cespedes is rounding into electric form.
“I’m not sure you’re going to get four hits out of him every day. But he’s looked good ever since he’s come back,” said Bruce. “He’s a game-changer offensively. And obviously that’ll be very big for us, for sure.
CONFIDENCE IN CONFORTO
After a scorching start to 2017, Michael Conforto has seen his batting average plummet over the last three weeks. He went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts Saturday and is now hitting .163 in June and .284 on the season.
Considering the struggles Conforto endured last season – when he lost his way at the plate after a red-hot April and spent close to a month in the minor leagues – it’s fair to wonder if he’s headed down a similar path this season.
But Collins doesn’t believe that’s the case.
“He has played so well, he’s hit the ball so well, to continue that pace, it’s pretty hard,” Collins said. “I’m just really glad Michael’s done what he’s done and that he continues to work at it. You’re going to have some downs. But when he gets hot again, he’ll get it going again. I have all the confidence in the world this guy is not changing anything. He’s going top continue to show us what he did earlier in the year.”