Mets’ McNeil moving all around the diamond, now going to 3B
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — Jeff McNeil will be exchanging the big glove he’s been wearing this spring for the smaller one in his locker.
The New York Mets utilityman — an infielder for most of his career — started in left field for Friday’s exhibition game against the Miami Marlins. After the 10-3 loss, Mets manager Mickey Callaway said McNeil would get be getting more looks at third base.
The move is out of necessity, not because of McNeil’s outfield play.
“He’s been taking groundballs and we’re going to get him in there at third base on Sunday and start getting him some reps there,” Callaway said. “Every other time out, you might see him at third and the other time you’ll see him in left.”
The move for McNeil, who also sports a first baseman’s mitt in his locker, was on the horizon. Callaway expected an 80-20 split between time in the outfield and in the infield for McNeil, but those numbers flipped to 50-50 with injuries to infielder Jed Lowrie (knee) and third baseman Todd Frazier (oblique). Lowrie is unlikely to be ready for opening day.
“That’s just to ensure that we’re covered in all scenarios. We feel like he needs to start playing some third,” Callaway said. “We were still going to get him on the infield, but now with the couple of injuries we need get him more 50-50 in that regard.”
A former outfielder at Long Beach State and in summer ball, McNeil started off well at First Data Field on a blustery day.
After an uneventful top of the first inning, McNeil led off the bottom half with his first hit this spring, a home run against Dan Straily.
Things got interesting defensively, however, in the top of the second. Isaac Galloway hit a line drive that turned McNeil around, and the ball bounced off his glove. McNeil retrieved it and threw to shortstop Andres Gimenez, who relayed to catcher Devin Mesoroco in time to get Austin Dean and keep the Marlins off the board against Noah Syndergaard.
“The wind was pretty tough out there today, and I had a really good read on it,” McNeil said. “It just twisted back over my right shoulder, and I did the most athletic thing I could.
“It hit the palm of my glove and just happened to pop out. I make that catch almost every time,” he said.
McNeil is coming back from a minor wrist cut. McNeil, 26, played his fourth Grapefruit League game and Callaway likes what little he had seen of his outfield work.
“He’s looked really good. He gets the ball in quick. He still hasn’t played outfield a ton, so what we’ve seen to this point I think we’ve been satisfied with,” Callaway said.
“I think he’ll be able to handle (playing the outfield) with more reps that he gets,” he said.
McNeil is ready for the challenge.
“I’ll get my flyballs and I’ll get my groundballs, so I’ll do both. I’ll do my best to be comfortable at both,” he said.
Syndergaard, who said he “out of sync” in his last start, called his four innings against Miami “kind of a boring outing.”
“It wasn’t terribly good, it wasn’t too bad. It’s a step in the right direction. In the spring, that’s really all that matters — going out there and getting better,” said Syndergaard, who issued five walks last Saturday.
Former Mets teammate Neil Walker hit a three-run homer off Syndergaard and JT Riddle had a solo drive. Syndergaard allowed six hits and four runs (three earned), struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter.
“I was just trying to think less, be more comfortable on the mound, be more fluid and accelerate toward the catcher,” the right-hander said.
NOTES: Robinson Cano and Gimenez also hit their first homers of the spring in the loss. “It feels good, but they don’t count here,” said Cano, 36. He is hitting .471 (8 for 17). . SS Amed Rosario (bruised left hand) was a late scratch from the lineup, but Callaway said he would start on Sunday. . New closer Edwin Diaz pitched a scoreless seventh, allowing one hit. . Gimenez, Dominic Smith, Dilson Herrera and Arismendy Alcantara all committed errors. . Top prospect Pete Alonso (.409, two homers) and OFs Brandon Nimmo and Tim Tebow will be among the Mets traveling to Fort Myers on Saturday for the game against the Boston Red Sox. RHP Zack Wheeler will start.