By Ernie Palladino
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While the Yankees seemingly send their pitchers to the DL two at a time, the Mets are hitting theirs in the No. 8 hole.
Bartolo Colon was the latest to execute Terry Collins’ most unorthodox of strategies, hitting eighth Thursday night against Atlanta. Jacob deGrom hit there Tuesday and actually contributed a base knock in three at-bats.
It might have been asking too much for Colon to become an offensive force out of that spot. Remember, the portly Colon has just two hits in 37 at-bats. And he went 0-for-3 before Collins pulled him in for Carlos Torres in the ninth; otherwise, he’d have had one more chance to employ easily one of the understandably ugliest swings in all of baseball. Having spent most of his career in the American League, Colon rarely touched a bat, so forgive him for his comical lack of artistry.
Still, there was some clear thinking there. Collins knew his team couldn’t do much worse than it has offensively. So what if the pitcher hits eighth? It’s changes like that which occasionally transform limping lineups into effective units.
That is obviously what has happened to the Mets lately, regardless of their 3-1 loss in Thursday’s series finale. They’ve scored 39 runs in their last nine games, 38 in the eight prior to Thursday’s shutdown.
Think Joe Girardi is envious right now? He just lost Masahiro Tanaka for who knows how long with an elbow problem. The Yankees’ issues won’t be quite as easy to fix.
The Mets’ factors, of course, have more to do with the position players’ bats waking up than any pitcher hitting outside the traditional No. 9 spot. Suddenly, Travis d’Arnaud looks like a hitter, a powerful one at that. He went 2-for-5 with two runs scored Tuesday, and then blasted one of those two-run homers that left Citi Field in about a nanosecond to cap the three-run seventh of Wednesday’s 4-1 victory.
His year’s average is only .214, which still represents losing stats. But in the six games since July 4, he’s hit at a 7-for-24 (.291) pace.
That’s called improvement.
The other factor is that Collins has moved Eric Young Jr. into the ninth spot when he plays, cementing Curtis Granderson at leadoff. That effectively offers the potential of two leadoff hitters, and since Young hasn’t drawn flies with his swatter, either hitting ninth or sitting on the bench should suit him just fine.
Before anyone gets too excited over this, remember that the Mets are perfectly capable of an offensive face-plant at any moment. But at this point, a 5-5 mark over the last 10 and the four-game winning streak that preceded Thursday’s loss had to put a smile on Collins’ face.
At least there’s one baseball manager in New York who can look on the bright side. For all the offensive tribulations his team has gone through, at least Collins didn’t get the news Girardi did Thursday.
Providing everything goes right, Tanaka might come back in six weeks. He has a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, the one that more often than not triggers Tommy John surgery. His MRI and consultation with not one, but three elbow specialists in Dr. Chris Ahmad (Yanks), Dr. Neal elAttrache (Dodgers), and Dr. David Altchek (Mets) indicated that platelet-rich plasma treatments and a rehab program would be the first step.
Worst-case scenario is Tanaka’s elbow fails to respond, the doctors have to cut, and the Yanks lose their steadiest, most effective starter for the rest of this season and probably part of the next.
Unfortunately for Girardi, it’s a lot easier hitting a pitcher eighth than filling an outstanding starter’s spot in a rotation that already resembles a replacement parts warehouse.
At this point, if it wasn’t for the differences in their teams’ respective standings, Girardi might actually envy Collins.
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