T.J. Rivera making case to stick with Mets

T.J. Rivera making case to stick with Mets

NEW YORK -- Lucas Duda's Minor League rehab assignment is nearing its final stages. Duda homered Tuesday for Class A St. Lucie, playing all nine innings at first base in his third consecutive game.

By this weekend, Duda should be ready to return to the Mets, roughly three weeks after they placed him on the disabled list with a hyperextended left elbow. That will, in turn, push a difficult issue across manager Terry Collins' desk: Duda's replacement, T.J. Rivera, racked up another three hits Tuesday in a 6-1 win over the Giants, increasing his batting average to .309.

"He did it to us last year when he came up and all he kept doing was getting hits," Collins said of Rivera. "Due to some injuries, he ended up finding himself in the lineup in the playoffs. He's doing exactly what you want. He's dangerous at the plate. He's got some power. He puts the barrel on the ball, uses the whole field to hit. Yeah, it's going to be tough to get him out of there."

Rivera reacts to tough hop

When asked how he plans to use Rivera upon Duda's return, Collins grinned.

"I don't know," he quipped. "Lucas isn't here yet."

At this point, removing Rivera from the everyday lineup would inflame a fan base that adores the undrafted Bronx native. Over his last 11 games, Rivera is hitting .381 with one home run, seven doubles, seven RBIs and nine runs. He has even managed to soften the organization's foremost criticism of him, increasing his walk rate to an only slightly below-average 7.8 percent. Rivera is reaching base at a .397 clip, which would rank 14th in the National League if he had enough at-bats to qualify.

"I've been putting a lot of work in the cages," Rivera said. "Working with the hitting coaches has paid off."

The results are plain to see. Yet Duda is one of the Mets' most potent sluggers, a 30-plus home run threat when healthy. The Mets have no plans to bench him. So they will soon have to find more creative ways to keep Rivera in the lineup.

One would be a shift to third base for Rivera, a natural middle infielder. That would come at the expense of both Jose Reyes, whose hot streak has not been enough to lift his average above .190, and Asdrubal Cabrera, who could use some extra time off considering his litany of injuries.

Collins likes to say that these situations tend to work themselves out, and in most situations, he's right. Much of the Mets' early-season talk, for example, revolved around their quest to find Michael Conforto playing time. An injury to Yoenis Cespedes now has Conforto, who homered in Tuesday's win, playing every day and thriving.

It is not unreasonable to expect Rivera to follow suit.

"What I can control is coming out here, trying to help the team win right now when I'm getting my opportunity," Rivera said. "When the time comes, decisions will be made. But that's not really what's on my mind right now."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.