Mets’ flexible lineup provides managing test for Luis Rojas

Mets’ flexible lineup provides managing test for Luis Rojas

PORT ST. LUCIE — In a lineup of interchangeable parts, manager Luis Rojas can probably pull names from a hat and construct a respectable batting order for the Mets.

Rojas will go the more conventional route and use analytics, front office recommendations, scouting reports and his own observations to formulate a batting order. The rookie manager still has almost a month to figure out a plan, with the season opener against the Nationals scheduled for March 26, but it’s never too early to examine possibilities.

The top three spots in the order are always the most intriguing, and the Mets have multiple options.

Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario are the three most obvious choices to bat leadoff. According to a prime candidate for the No. 2 hole, Pete Alonso, the Mets have three strong possibilities to hit ahead of him.

“Batting second was really cool because whether it was Rosie or Jeff, those guys were always on base, and for me, I always love when guys are on base,” Alonso said Thursday. “And Nimmo is an on-base machine, so if he’s not getting a hit, he’s working the count, seeing a ton of pitches, making the pitcher work, getting on anyway he can.

Mets
Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, Robinson CanoAnthony J. Causi (3)

“Anyone who is in that leadoff spot did a great job of putting immediate pressure because Jeff doesn’t see as many pitches as Nims, but hell if you can hit a double somewhere, go get a single, work a walk. A single is just as good as a walk.”

In 92 plate appearances leading off the first inning last season, McNeil had a slash line of .322/.359/.529 with three homers. McNeil also batted second, third, sixth, seventh and ninth.

Rosario had 38 plate appearances leading off a game last season with a .378/.395/.541 slash line and one homer. Rosario received the bulk of his plate appearances in the No. 7 hole, but also had significant action batting eighth.

“I feel comfortable batting first because mostly the pitchers at that point are looking to attack early and trying to take advantage of the fastball and I know what to expect at that point,” Rosario said through an interpreter. “He’s not trying to throw a lot of breaking pitches in that at-bat, so it makes me feel comfortable and I feel I can take advantage. At the same time I am not really focused on batting first. As long as I am in the lineup, I am happy about it.”

Nimmo, who played only 69 games in an injury-shortened season, had a slash line of just .074/.167/.185 as the first batter of the game (30 plate appearances). But a year earlier, those numbers were .294/.446/.569 with three homers in 65 plate appearances.

Alonso batted in the No. 2 hole in 72 games last season, hitting 26 of his MLB rookie-record 53 homers from that spot. Among the possibilities is a 2-3-4 of Alonso, Robinson Cano and J.D. Davis or Yoenis Cespedes to begin the season with Michael Conforto fifth. Or Rojas could supplant Cano from the No. 3 spot in the order, flipping him with Conforto.

“I take pride in being an RBI guy, so having guys on base a lot of the times is awesome,” Alonso said. “The more RBI chances I get, the more chances I get to help the team. I feel like last year I did a pretty good job of working counts, using the whole field so being in the two spot, it’s pretty versatile, so whichever spot they need I will be there.”

Cano was a disappointment in the first half of last season before showing flashes of his former brilliance following the All-Star break. He was asked where he would want to hit if given the choice.

“If Louie asks me? Who doesn’t like the three spot?” Cano asked rhetorically. “I don’t mind, third, fourth whatever. Right now my focus is just on, get ready. Get some at-bats and get ready for the season.”

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