Image by Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
By Rich Mancuso
Manager Terry Collins said when infielder Asdrubal Cabrera signed on with the New York Mets this offseason he was willing to play everyday and everywhere.
“He gives us a lot of flexibility,” Collins commented after the Mets 10-2 win Friday night over the Cubs, a game that saw a team tying a franchise record of five home home runs and their most at Citi Field. Cabrera, hit two of them, Yoenis Cespedes hit is 20th of the season, James Loney led off the second inning with a go ahead run.
And rookie Brandon Nimmo connected on a three-run home run in the fifth inning, the first of his career with his first multi-hit game. The Mets won their second straight against the best team in baseball on a soggy night that included three rain delays.
Cabrera. The 30-year old veteran from Anzoategui Venezuela, signed as free agent to shore up the infield defense and he has been a good tandem with Neil Walker at second base in converting the double play ball. And though the range is a little slower, after stints with Cleveland and Tampa Bay, and Washington, you would never know at times.
“He plays brilliantly out there,” Collins said. “He may not be Hechevarria, Didi Gregorious, type of guy,” he said commenting about the Marlins and Yankees shortstops, “I know one thing, when the ball’s hit to shortstop and I know he can get a glove on it, you’re out.”
The major aspect about Cabrera is, his wanting to play. He had a sore knee Friday night and told the manager, keep me in the lineup as Loney and Cabrera went back-to-back with home run balls to open the second inning. The Mets with the home run ball have 103 in 79 games.
“I feel good to have a game like today,” Cabrera said. “Help the team win, your teammates lift you up too. Every game that we win is good for us. Collins added, that being a switch hitter offers the Mets flexibility with using Cabrera who had his fourth career multi- home run game and 10th of the season and the home runs were hit form both side of the plate.
The Mets went shopping in the offseason for a shortstop with a bat. They gave up on Ruben Tejada who at times showed some production, but in the end they needed more out of the lineup from the shortstop position. Cabrera was available after hitting 15 home runs last season with Tampa Bay, his only season with the Rays and the most long balls he has hit out of the park since his recent All-Star season in 2012.
His production at the plate hit a peak with 25 home runs and 92 RBI in Cleveland during the 2011 season as an American League all-star and winning a Silver Slugger Award with career highs in runs, hits and stolen bases.
So, the Mets went with his veteran status. The credentials also said, this was a player that could fill the role they needed in the lineup and on the field.
“He does nothing but make play after play, and he wants to play,” said Collins. “I’ve been trying to give him a day off this week. He just told me 25 minutes ago, you know what, when I need a day off then I’ll come to see you.”
The home runs Friday night, in the second inning to deep left off Cubs and in the fifth to to right, off Cubs starter Jason Hammel was his first multi-home run game since May 6, 2013 against Oakland when playing for the Cleveland Indians. The last Mets shortstop to have a multi-home run game was Jose Reyes on September 27, 2011.
Reyes is expected to rejoin the Mets in the next few days after completing a tuneup with Double-A Binghampton. Cabrera is not concerned and elated that Reyes is coming home to New York, and the plan is for Cabrera to not concede his position in the lineup.
And when listening to Collins comments, there is every reason to understand why Cabrera is an important cog for the Mets seeking a return to the postseason.
“He’s come in here,” says the manager, “he’s come to this team with a chance to contribute. He wanted to play shortstop, We were looking for a shortstop. He said he’ll play anywhere, but he likes to try to play shortstop and that’s what he has done.”
Reyes was reacquired to offer some help off the bench, and get some starts in the infield with a primary role at third base to fill in for the injured David Wright.
“I’m enjoying it,” Cabrera said about being in New York and acclimating to his new environment. “That’s why I play to be there everyday. It’s important to win every day. I’m not thinking of the home run ball.” And the home ball from Cabrera, as seen, can be consistent when he gets in the groove.
His defense has also been consistent, the upgrade the Mets were seeking in place of Tejada and Wilmer Flores, and the loss of Daniel Murphy in the infield who opted for free agency and signed a lucrative deal with the first place Washington Nationals. Cabrera has three errors in 78 games, which is tops in the National League and fourth best among starting shortstops in all of baseball.
He has hit 10-home runs or more the sixth season of his career. The Mets were not getting that production from the shortstop position in the past few years. So, indeed this was an upgrade and a contract that GM Sandy Alderson is proud to have gained.
“As long as I contribute, I am happy,” he said. And for the Mets, they are content now with the ideal player they need at shortstop.