Revolving door at shortstop for the Mets and Wheeler lost his touch

Rich Mancuso

Wednesday evening at Citi Field, and moments after the New York Mets lost and got a split of their brief two game series with the Oakland Athletics, Wilmer Flores was cleaning out his belongings in the clubhouse.  Equipment manager, Kevin Kierst quietly asked Flores what he wanted shipped to his next destination.

There was no secret. Flores was sent back to Triple-A Las Vegas to make room for Juan Lagares. The outfielder, on the disabled list since June 2, with a right intercostal strain, will probably be in the lineup and be the regular center fielder when the Mets begin a four-game series at Pittsburgh Thursday night.

Or will he? The Mets once again have a logjam in the outfield with Curtis Granderson, Eric Young Jr. and Chris Young, along with the veteran Bobby Abreu who will spend more time on the bench. Manager Terry Collins spends hours after a game contemplating his next lineup, and it won’t get easier.

Lagares, assuming he is healthy, should get the bulk of playing time in center and leadoff. Granderson, with a season tying three-hits Wednesday night, is hitting .313 and has reached safely to a career best 33 starts, notwithstanding one of the hottest hitters in baseball the past few weeks.

And then there is Chris Young. He makes this equation that much more difficult. Young hit his third home run in two games- in the eighth inning and was, a part of the Mets comeback that came up short in their 8-5 loss. Monday there were reports that Young, in a constant struggle, would be the odd man out.

But his revival at the plate, and the home run ball gave him a reprieve. The production made it easier for the Mets to not give him an outright release and eat the remainder of a one-year $7.5 million contract. So for the moment “CY” is staying put and will get his amount of playing time.

Wait, as this development was quietly taking place, as the Mets packed their bags for a four-game series in Pittsburgh and three at Atlanta, Flores was not commenting. The Mets did not release a statement and when media left the clubhouse, veteran media relations director Jay Horwitz said that Lagares was activated.

But it was known. Flores was spending a majority time on the bench and he would be better served going back to Las Vegas. He was brought up to the big club six weeks ago because Ruben Tejada was not doing the job at shortstop. However, Tejada got his job back with outstanding play at the position and at times has showed some spark in the batter’s box.

The problem with all of this, there is no legitimate backup plan at the moment for Tejada at short. On the 25-man roster, not one player has started at shortstop. Eric Young- “EY” has, limited experience at the position. It won’t be David Wright with eight-innings of shortstop experience.         

The most experienced who can handle the backup role is 32-year old Omar Quintanilla. He started the season backing up Tejada and got some starts. At Las Vegas, in 36- games, Quintanilla is hitting .236, with 32 hits, 9 doubles, three home runs and 24 runs batted in.

He could still be called up, depending on options. After getting released when Flores got called up, he accepted a deal and returned to Las Vegas. At this point the Mets would have to make room for an experienced infielder, and that could mean another return to Vegas for Kirk Nieuwenhuis, an excess outfielder, who has been a part of this revolving door of roster moves.  

Confusing, but the Mets are doing everything possible to try and get run production in their lineup. Lagares offers some hope and Chris Young was going nowhere with his rejuvenated home run stroke.

In the meantime, the shortstop job belongs to Ruben Tejada. “All I can do is keep playing and working hard,” he said leaving the clubhouse. He and the team are ready for this next string of road games that the Mets have become accustomed to in the month of June.

The revolving door of roster moves continue and Collins won’t mind. As long as the results mean more wins, in what is right now a mediocre and competitive National league east division, he will spend more long nights putting the lineup card together.

THE GAME:  After tossing a three-hit and first career shutout against the Marlins last Thursday night in Miami, Zach Wheeler had no command from the beginning and left after 2.0 innings, a career low for the 24-year old right-hander.

Wheeler never came to bat with the bases loaded in the Mets second. Flores came off the bench and left the bases loaded with New York trailing 6-0, the deficit coming early in the first inning on a Brandon Moss long home run to right field, a hanging changeup.

That was an issue that continued in a long 34-pitch second inning for Wheeler, 3-8 with a 4.45 ERA, 0-3 with a 8.72 ERA in five career interleague games.

Said Collins, “He pitched so well last week that you thought he would really grab the opportunity and take off. But a lot of times you do see a letdown after a game like that. I haven’t seen him hit that hard, probably never.”

"I did so well last time," Wheeler said. "I know I have it. Just a bad outing,” and he explained that he had to call catcher Travis d’Arnaud  to the mound in that second inning to change the signs.

He explained, “They were onto my signs in the second. It's my fault for not catching onto it sooner. The next few pitches after we changed them up were good. When somebody turns on a 96 mph fastball, they probably knew it was coming.”

Regardless, it was a bad outing for Wheeler and after allowing the Mets a season high 10-runs at home the night before, the A’s, perhaps with the most potent lineup in baseball, were not going to let that happen again.

As for Chris Young, and another home run and his confidence, he said. “It’s a steady grind. I am feeling it day-to-day and trying to help this team as much as possible. This is a game where results what matters. Especially two outs and runners in scoring position in situation like that being able to come through that, was nice.”

 Comment Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com  Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso