ATLANTA — The Mets have largely avoided lost playing time for their most significant pieces this season, but Wednesday the lineup took a substantial hit, if only for possibly the short term.
Jeff McNeil was placed on the injured list with what the team is calling a mild left hamstring strain, leaving a void atop the batting order for at least 10 days. McNeil sustained the injury trying to leg out a grounder in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Braves.
To fill the roster spot, Ruben Tejada was selected from Triple-A Syracuse, reuniting the veteran infielder with the team with which he spent six seasons before his right leg was broken by Chase Utley’s slide in Game 2 of the 2015 NLDS.
McNeil is third in the National League in hitting, with a .332 batting average, and his versatility moving between right field and second base has added another component to his value. But the Mets are looking at the glass as half full, with an eye on the bigger picture than the next week or two.
“We got encouraging news that the injury was mild and was not a severe hamstring strain — in fact it was very low-grade and so we hope he can progress quickly and get back on the field,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said before the Mets faced the Braves at SunTrust Park.
McNeil missed 12 games earlier this season with a strained hamstring in the same leg. Team officials are hopeful his absence will allow him to rejuvenate both his legs as so much of his game is predicated upon running.
In the meantime, manager Mickey Callaway intends to employ a platoon at second base, with Tejada playing against lefties and veteran Joe Panik facing righties. Juan Lagares is expected to play full time, with the Mets thin in the outfield — Aaron Altherr is the only backup. Amed Rosario will hit leadoff in McNeil’s absence.
“I think everybody recognizes that [McNeil] is one of our better hitters and he gets on base, he has obviously led off for us but I think the nature of these guys is they are not going to let this bother them too much,” Callaway said. “Somebody is going to have to step up because we are going to be missing a big bat and a guy who can go out and play defense in multiple positions, but I feel like we have the personnel to do it.”
The 29-year-old Tejada was hitting .330 for Syracuse after rejoining the organization late in spring training. He had played for the Giants, Cardinals and Orioles after he was released by the Mets in spring training 2016.
“This was the organization I was in before and they gave me the opportunity for the first time so finally I am back here to do my job,” Tejada said. “It’s good because they have a good group here and they are playing pretty good baseball.”
A scout who watched Tejada for Syracuse offered this summary: “He was showing versatility around the infield. Competes well at the plate with his all fields line-drive approach.”
Tejada said it took him about 1 ½ years to rebound from the broken leg he sustained on Utley’s slide, and he has put the play behind him. As a result of the play, MLB instituted what has widely become regarded as the “Utley Rule” that says runners must remain in contact with the bag when attempting to break up a double play.
“It took a lot to get it out of my mind because it was a hard moment,” Tejada said. “But finally I feel real good, healthy, 100 percent with the leg.”