SAN DIEGO — Pete Alonso was out of the lineup on Thursday for the team’s important series opener against the Padres. Not long after the lineup was posted, Mets fans panicked.
“No Alonso?” one fan tweeted. “Where is Alonso! We need answers,” another fan said.
Yes, Alonso’s absence was strange considering he went 5-for-13 with a home run, five RBI and three runs scored in his first three games back from the injured list. But the Mets’ reasoning for his day off had nothing to do with re-injuring his right hand, as many fans had speculated.
“He didn’t have a rehab assignment and he played three days in a row, one of those being an extra-inning game,” said Mets manager Luis Rojas on Thursday. “We just gotta give him the day off.”
The team’s answer for Alonso’s day on the bench is a strategy it will continue to utilize, not just to minimize setbacks, but to ensure players stay fresh for the grind of the baseball season.
In Alonso’s case, he spent close to the minimum on the 10-day IL with his sprain, avoided a rehab assignment and jumped right back into the starting lineup for the team’s series in Arizona. The Mets said, because he didn’t ease back into his workload with rehab games, the tradeoff involves giving him days off to rest when it makes sense for the club. On Thursday, right-hander Yu Darvish toed the mound, reason enough to sit Alonso.
The following day, the Mets benched Dominic Smith against left-hander Blake Snell. Again, Rojas explained, there was no injury-related issue that led to Smith’s night off. The Mets gave him a day to rest because, as injuries are on the rise throughout the league, they know first-hand what it’s like to play short-handed and it’s a damaging situation they’d like to avoid.
So the Mets’ philosophy — with 13 players currently on the IL — to keep their regular players fresh will feature additional scattered off-days, both in healthy scenarios (like Smith) and injury-recovering circumstances (like Alonso).
“I know we had some injuries, but I think we’ve been really good at communicating about how the guys are going and where their workload is now that we’re in June, so that we’re smart enough that we have the guys in August and September,” Rojas said.
The Mets have employed a similar strategy with their relievers. The Mets bullpen entered Saturday ranked fifth-best in MLB with a 3.39 ERA that trails only the Padres, Cubs, Yankees and Indians. Mets relievers have combined to pitch 180.1 innings, the second-lowest number of innings pitched by an MLB relief unit largely because they have played the fewest number of games.
Right-handers Tommy Hunter and Dellin Betances are so far the only Mets relief arms to hit the IL. Mets relievers, though taxed with bullpen games and early entrances, have largely remained healthy through the club’s first 50 games of the year and Rojas attributed that success to, once again, days off.
“From a pitching standpoint, we’ve given [Miguel] Castro extra days off and we’ve given [Trevor] May extra days off,” Rojas said. “And not because they have anything, but because we want to be ahead of that. We want to have those arms in August and September performing the same way, stuff wise. We may do the same thing with [Edwin] Diaz and [Jeurys] Familia, depending on the workload that those guys have.”
Rojas said he relies on a team of expert sports scientists to alert him when players need rest days. Jim Cavallini has been the Mets’ director of performance and sports science since January 2018. Cavallini is assisted by several others in his performance department, tasked with the process of keeping track of players’ in-game workload and strength and conditioning routines.
“He tracks all of that down and he gives us an idea of how the guys are trending so we can make some decisions, and so we can keep the guys on the team performing and not have any uncertainty,” Rojas said.
So, while the random days off for sluggers like Alonso and Smith in an exciting series against a top team like the Padres may be frustrating to fans, it’s all part of the Mets’ plan to keep their players as healthy and fresh for as long as possible. It’s not the sexiest reason to bench key players, but if it helps the Mets keep their team chugging along through a 162-game season, well then, fans should have no problem understanding.