Lagares starting second half with surge

Lagares starting second half with surge

PHILADELPHIA -- The Mets didn't want Juan Lagares in the lineup Saturday.

Manager Terry Collins waited until only two hours before first pitch to post the lineup card, awaiting results of Yoenis Cespedes' running tests. Cespedes' right quad was still bothering him, so Lagares hit eighth and played center field in the Mets' 4-2 loss to the Phillies.

Despite playing sparingly in the season's first half -- and mostly against left-handers -- Lagares has played the first two games of the second half against right-handers. In doing so and contributing offensively, the 27-year-old center fielder is making a push to see his name on the lineup card more often -- and without waiting on Cespedes' health.

"He's done a nice job when he's been in there," Collins said after Friday's win. "Right now with Ces' leg, we've certainly got to take a look at seeing if Juan should see some more playing time."

Lagares burst into the Mets' lineup two seasons ago, raising his average nearly 40 points from his rookie season and playing Gold Glove defense in center. But in 2015, his struggles against right-handers were magnified and his average dropped close to his rookie levels. After posting a league-average OPS+ of 102 in 2014, it fell to 79 in 2015. His OPS against right-handers fell more than 50 points from 2014 to '15. But Collins thinks Lagares' 2015 struggles against righties are an aberration, especially after what he's seen the past two games.

In starts against right-handers Jeremy Hellickson and Jerad Eickhoff the past two nights, Lagares is 2-for-5. Both hits went for extra bases, and one left the yard. He's reached base five times the past two games and scored three times.

He has been a catalyst in the Mets' long-ball-turned-small-ball approach without the powerful Cespedes anchoring the middle of the order. Saturday was the first game this season the Mets didn't hit at least two home runs at Citizens Bank Park; in fact they hit none. But a Lagares double, sac bunt and sac fly manufactured one run. In Friday's contest, Lagares walked, stole second and scored on Jose Reyes using his own wheels to reach first.

"Those are the things you can do when you've got some speed," Collins said. "You have Juan, [Alejandro] De Aza, Reyes, all of a sudden those are weapons."

The Mets acquired De Aza as a platoon partner for Lagares in center. But that was before Cespedes re-upped his contract and created a logjam in the outfield. De Aza started the two games Cespedes missed leading into the All-Star break, but it has been Lagares in the two games after it.

His performance has given Collins the confidence to be able to stick Lagares' glove in center without worrying about his bat being a black hole against most pitchers of the same handedness. Collins is still looking to play the matchups. Someone, like Max Scherzer, with strong splits against righties, probably won't see Lagares. But that is potentially offset when the Mets throw a flyballer, when Lagares' Gold Glove defense is most valuable.

Evan Webeck is a reporter for based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.