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PITTSBURGH — After a parade of injuries, the Mets finally have all eight of their Opening Day starters back.
J.D. Davis was the last position player missing from that mix before he returned from the injured list on Friday. To make room for him on the roster, outfielder Billy McKinney was designated for assignment.
Davis’ nagging left hand sprain caused him to spend over two months on the IL. Now that his hand injury — which involved a ligament tear — is completely healed, Davis returned to the Mets for… a bench role.
The third baseman was not in the Mets’ starting lineup on Friday for their series opener against the Pirates. Jonathan Villar, who has played 52 games at the hot corner this season compared to Davis’ 13, got the start instead. The Mets have not told Davis exactly when his name will again be written in the starting lineup, but it will be soon. Davis will be part of a third-base rotation that includes Villar, Luis Guillorme and Jose Peraza.
Until then, Davis has been instructed to be ready to come off the bench at any moment. The Mets have particularly missed his bat against left-handers this season; Davis has a .847 career OPS against southpaws.
“I’m always here for the team,” said Davis, who indicated he has no hard feelings about being part of a third-base rotation. “The most important thing is to win ballgames anyway we can. So I’m just going to be here and continue to get my work in, continue to do scouting reports for the guys, hang out and do my part and be a good teammate. That’s all I can do.”
Davis was swinging a hot bat through 14 rehab games for Triple-A Syracuse this month. He batted .316 with a 1.206 OPS and crushed four home runs with seven RBI in that span. When asked whether sitting on the bench some days will mess up his timing at the plate, Davis said he’ll try to draw from past experiences to stay hot in a potential pinch-hit situation.
“I know it’s a little different when you can’t actually swing, it’s more mental reps,” Davis said. “But also, I can work with [Mets pitching coach Jeremy] Hefner and step in on guys that are throwing off to the side, continue to come in and get early hitting in, and that’s the most I can do. The most I can do to control it is getting mental reps and trying to stay locked in.”
The Mets have reportedly been interested in Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ third baseman who becomes a free agent after the 2021 season. If the front office is seriously moving toward a potential Bryant acquisition with the July 30 trade deadline just two weeks away, Davis hasn’t heard about it. “I just got here,” he joked.
“If I ended up getting traded, then I’d be pretty sad,” Davis said. “I’ve made a lot of friends over here. I love New York. It is what it is, but I know baseball is a business. If, unfortunately, I get traded, that means another team wants me and that’s a positive thing. I think at the end of the day, you can’t really worry about that kind of stuff because it’s out of your control.”
SO LONG, BILLY
McKinney was traded to the Mets by the Brewers at the end of May. He pplayed in 39 games for the Mets, filling in at all three outfield positions and pinch-hitting while the team was depleted with injuries to Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Kevin Pillar and Albert Almora. McKinney played an important role in the Mets’ current first-place standing, helping the club stay afloat while regulars were down.
He slashed .220/.304/.473 with a .776 OPS, five home runs, 14 RBI, 11 walks and 15 runs scored across 91 at-bats for the Amazin’s. McKinney’s makeup suggests it won’t take long for him to be claimed off waivers for another outfield-deficient team.
“This was a really tough conversation with a guy that came in and helped us so much in a situation where we were dealing with a lot of adversity,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “He did everything we asked and more.”
WHEN IS JAKE STARTING?
Saturday will mark 10 agonizing days since Mets fans last saw Jacob deGrom take the mound. So, what’s the holdup? Coming out of the All-Star break, the Mets had Marcus Stroman open their three-game set against the Pirates on Friday, followed by rookie right-hander Tylor Megill on Saturday. Sunday’s starter is still to be announced, but it increasingly appears like deGrom will sidestep pitching in Pittsburgh entirely.
DeGrom threw a light, 10-pitch bullpen session at PNC Park on Friday, a routine activity he usually does three days before his start, which would indicate he’s more likely to pitch Monday in Cincinnati. Speculatively, Sunday’s start would line up better for Taijuan Walker, who pitched an inning last Tuesday in the All-Star Game.
Rojas indicated the Mets are keen on waiting to push deGrom’s start to Sunday, if not Monday, so that he would face more divisional opponents in the second half of the team’s schedule. Of course, that’s contingent on deGrom remaining healthy the rest of the year and sticking to his five-day schedule — and that’s only if Mother Nature cooperates.
“He’ll have the same amount of starts as if we started him today or tomorrow,” Rojas said on Friday.