Yesterday afternoon the New York Mets defeated the Colorado Rockies by the score of 6-5 in eleven innings to take the weekend series and improve their season record to 13-9. At the moment, this record is good enough for third place in the NL East - one game behind both the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals.
Some of the wins, especially those coming this past weekend, have not been very pretty. Mets fans surely all felt their hearts being broken at once yesterday when the bullpen gave up the lead twice in the later stages of the game. And yet, the Mets offense kept fighting to regain that lead, and ultimately came out on top in the eleventh.
Regardless, Mets fans have to be pretty happy with their team's performance in this first month of the season, especially after being given so few reasons to be hopeful throughout the offseason and spring. From David Wright's hot start to the resurgence of Johan Santana, this team has given its fans a lot to be excited about. One of the biggest sources of excitement this April has been the performance of rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
Nieuwenhuis was called up from AAA Buffalo after center fielder Andres Torres injured his calf on Opening Day. Since then, Nieuwenhuis has been nothing short of amazing, batting .316 with 2 HR and a .381 OBP in 84 plate appearances. Even more inspiring has been the hustle he has shown in all facets of the game. Time and again, Nieuwenhuis has made highlight-reel catches in center field, saving runs seemingly every day. He has stepped into the leadoff spot in the lineup without missing a beat. He has been prone to rookie mistakes from time to time, such as base running blunders and misjudgments on fly balls in the outfield, but this is not unexpected in any player's first month in the big leagues. All things considered, Nieuwenhuis has been one of the brightest stars on this Mets team throughout the month of April.
Tonight, however, Andres Torres will be returning to the starting lineup for the Mets' game against the Houston Astros. Torres will play center field and bat leadoff, which will push Nieuwenhuis over to left field for the time being. Nieuwenhuis will probably not be contested for playing time until Jason Bay returns from the disabled list, at which time his spot in the starting lineup might be in jeopardy.
But should the Mets sit Nieuwenhuis in favor of such declining veterans as Andres Torres and Jason Bay?
Mets fans have sat through two very disappointing seasons from Jason Bay, and so far in this young season there have been no particularly obvious signs of life. As Bay will turn 34 later this season, it's surely hard for any Mets fan to think that he will ever rediscover himself as the All-Star he used to be. Yet, the fact remains that he once was a very good hitter.
Andres Torres is a different story: the Mets have only seen him play one regular season game. Torres has never done anything for the Mets. All the Mets know is that he had one good season for the San Francisco Giants in 2010, and outside of that season he's a career .227 hitter. Torres is also 34 years old, and whether or not he has anything of value left to contribute is questionable.
Nieuwenhuis may not turn out to be an All-Star. However, he's a promising 24 year-old outfielder who has shown, though in a small sample size, that he has the ability to play well at the Major League level. Jason Bay and Andres Torres may have more experience, but most Mets fans will probably agree that neither one will ever play in a playoff game for the New York Mets. The Mets are off to a good start this season, but too much stock should not be put into the April record. The Mets also started strong in 2010, going 14-9 in April, only to finish the season at 79-83, fourth place in the NL East.
The Mets should be looking towards the future of the organization. The disappointment of expensive free agent signings has been a distraction in recent years, especially with the debacle of Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. The Mets have tried to get themselves out of this mess by releasing Castillo and Perez, and refusing to resign Jose Reyes and other players in an attempt to lower the payroll. However, they need to continue in the right direction by looking towards the future and, specifically, not letting the size of a player's paycheck determine his playing time.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis deserves a chance to show what he can do over a full season in the majors. He could be a key building block in the future of the New York Mets.