BY JOE RINI
Two weeks after the Mets limped to five loses in seven games to start the 2016 season, a power surge has propelled them to 10 wins in 12 games with the bats slugging 27 home runs during this hot stretch. Following a successful 7-2 road trip, late inning home run heroics by newcomer Neil Walker and Yoenis Cespedes against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field on Monday and Tuesday paced the Mets to 5-3 and 4-3 victories to open the current homestand.
Walker, an upcoming free agent and considered a one-year placeholder at second base while Dilson Herrera gets another year of seasoning in the minors, may have fans wishing that he starts house hunting in the New York area rather than renting for a year. With eight home runs in April, Walker is half way to his 2015 total of 16 in setting a personal record for home runs in a month and has assuaged the concerns of Mets fans fretting about the departure of Daniel Murphy.
After his two-run homer provided the margin of victory on Monday, Walker said, “It’s nice to get off to this start individually but for us to not start real well the first week, and then be playing baseball like we are, it makes everything easier when the lineup’s kind of rolling.”
The surge by the offense has also coincided with Terry Collins moving Michael Conforto to the number three slot in line-up with the 23-year old outfielder batting .366 in his new role. Speaking of Conforto during the recent road trip, Collins said, “He’s got enough to discipline that he wants a certain pitch and when he gets it, he doesn’t foul it off. He does damage with it. That’s one of the things I like best about him.”
On the injury front, Jacob deGrom returned from a strained right lat injury (as well as dealing with a family health crisis with his newborn son Jaxon) and pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball en route to his second victory on Sunday against the Braves in Atlanta. Cespedes’ pinch hit three run homer on Tuesday notwithstanding, the outfielder has been day to day recently with a bruised knee but more significantly, catcher Travis d’Arnaud was placed on the 15 day disabled list on Tuesday with a right rotator cuff shoulder strain.
The injury to d’Arnaud provides Kevin Plawecki with an opportunity as the starting catcher. “I feel like I’m ready,” Plawecki said. “I’m excited to get some more consistent at-bats and playing time, but obviously given the circumstances, they are what they are. I’ve just got to make the most of them.” Veteran catcher Rene Rivera was brought up from Triple-A Las Vegas to back up Plawecki.
The Mets enter play on Wednesday in second place with a record of 12-7, two games behind the division leading Washington Nationals. Following this nine game homestand, the Mets head west to San Diego, Los Angeles, and Denver before returning to Citi Field on May 17 to face the rival Nationals.