Tejada for now has ended talk of the Mets looking at shortstop

Rich Mancuso

Philadelphia- Steven Drew sits at home still looking for a team. The New York Mets were looking for a shortstop but that issue for the moment has been resolved. At 15-11, the Mets had their most wins in April since 2007 and Ruben Tejada has been a part of that success.

Though his average sits at .221, still not where the Mets would like it to be, Tejada has been getting better at bats. And there is no question about his defense at shortstop. It has reminded many of the plays Tejada made in the infield two years ago, so the question is, does the talk about acquiring a shortstop end for the Mets, or is Tejada here to stay?

Manager Terry Collins, once again put Tejada in the lineup Wednesday night for game two of the brief series against the Phillies. That game was postponed due to heavy rain down in Philadelphia and will be made up June 2. That is the next trip to Citizens Bank Park for the Mets, and a four-game series has now become five.

So, as the team embarks on the second leg of a three-city trip, four games in Colorado and three at Miami, before heading home next Friday night against the Phillies, where does Tejada stand with his new renewal in the lineup?

“Ruben is getting batter at bats and looking like he did a few years ago,” commented Collins. “You see him driving the ball to the gap, going deep in the count. Look, I always said he has it. He has worked hard and making those plays at short. He can only get better as the weather gets warm.”

And, Tejada will be the first to say, he can’t stand cold weather.  He tends to play his best baseball when the weather is more conducive to baseball elements. To his credit, and despite his struggles of the past two years, he has never shied away from the media and has always addressed the issue of, when or will the real Ruben Tejada step up to the plate?

“The big thing is separate the defense from the offense,” says Tejada who had more than his share of errors last season at the position, especially in the month of April. That part of his game was questioned, so were his struggles at the plate.

 Added Tejada, regarding the difference: “Sometimes you miss one at bat you go to the defense thinking of that. Every at bat is like a new day, an opportunity.” He reached base three times Tuesday night in the Mets 6-1 win. One hit was a double to left in the third inning that led to the Mets first run.

And, in the fifth, off a 1-1 pitch from Phillies starter Cole Hamels, Tejada singled to center scoring Chris Young and Josh Satin. The hits, more so approach at the plate, resembled the at bats seen from Tejada in 2012. With Eric Young Jr. a catalyst at leadoff, Collins has Tejada feeling comfortable batting at the bottom in the eighth position.

After his second consecutive opening day start last year, Tejada fell on hard times. He appeared in a season low 57- games and finished with a career low .202 average. A right quad injury put him on the disabled list in mid-May, and after a rehab stint, Tejada was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas.

Mets management believed that adjustments were needed, more so they were beginning the process to find another shortstop. Tejada showed some improvement and his bad luck season ended September 18th when he sustained a broken right fibula after a play in the infield. During the off-season he went through an extensive regiment program in Michigan with first baseman Lucas Duda.

It was at the suggestion of Mets management that, Tejada, 24-years of age, signed through the end of this season, go with the plan. There was no back-and-forth agenda, because Tejada knew he had to go with the plan. It was either now, or the Mets would look at other options. The veteran Omar Quintanilla was signed again as a backup, and he has been doing the job.

Wilmer Flores, who spent some experimental time at short late last season, was also in the mix. He is not a natural at the position, but the Mets feel the potential is there for Flores to be groomed into an everyday shortstop and he is getting tested in Las Vegas.  

“Yes, it was difficult for me,” commented Tejada about the struggle to get back. Last week before the home crowd at Citi Field, he made two defensive plays at short that reminded many of his capability to handle the position. One play diving to his right and throwing to first made the highlight reels.   

He said, “You never know what happens. Last year was one of those things that happen… I was hurt. I know what I can do to make this team win. I am feeling a hundred percent and confident. Last year is over.”

The Mets will feel better when they see the continued good at bats. They are becoming more constant as Tejada, behind the count, makes the pitcher work. Those are all good signs. Making good contact and drawing some walks are also adding to an on-base percentage of .250, which improved the past five games.

The captain, David Wright has also noticed the work ethic Tejada brings to the field and to the clubhouse.  He too, says, it was one of those struggles that Tejada has seen to overcome, though many more games remain before that September stretch. And for the Mets to be serious contenders at that time, they need Tejada to continue playing good baseball. He also needs to remain healthy, and he appears to be in playing shape, something that also was a stigma of last year.

“Ruben has worked real hard and continues to get better,” says Wright. “We, as a team know how important Ruben is to this lineup. He has done it here before.”

And the Mets can only hope that Ruben Tejada continues to improve at being that everyday player they need at short. If not, the talk of Steven Drew will be heard again.

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