NEW YORK — Yoenis Cespedes has done the work; he’s figured out the math. The Cuban slugger is convinced he will be ready to play when the Mets host the Braves on July 24 for opening day.
“I know for certain now that I will be ready,” Cespedes said when asked about his contribution for opening day. “And I’m very excited for the season to start in two weeks.”
After pausing for a collective sigh of relief, Mets fans can finally, comfortably, begin dreaming of a lineup that consists of both Cespedes and 2019 MLB home run leader Pete Alonso. The Mets sluggers are guaranteed to steal the show in Queens and give their tough division opponents a run for their money.
“I don’t think it’s any secret we have one of the best lineups in baseball,” Cespedes declared. “We have everything. We have speed, we have hitters who can hit for power, hitters who can hit for contact. If everything goes right, we’ll have a very good team.”
Cespedes, 34, said he wasn’t nearly as confident he would be ready for the season before it was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since March, his body has felt progressively better. Now he only feels a slight tightness near his ankle when he wakes up in the morning. After walking around for a few minutes, the tightness loosens up and Cespedes feels ready to go.
He has shown plenty of encouraging signs at Mets camp — launching a home run off Seth Lugo in a simulation game, running the bases at full speed alongside his teammates, participating in outfield drills and even staying on the field late for extra sprint-training after workouts have finished for the day. The motivation for Cespedes has massively increased since the last time he trained with the team in March.
“With seeing just a few pitches here, getting a few at-bats here and seeing some live pitching here, with all the years that I’ve had with experience in the big leagues, it’s like riding a bike,” he said. “Once you see it and start to get used to it, you’ll be able to go out on the field and get it done.”
The Mets are still closely monitoring Cespedes for his speed on the basepaths and flexibility in the outfield. Cespedes said he has not yet been informed by the team whether most of his reps will come from the DH spot or in left field. But he said he feels ready to play in the outfield if that’s what the team asks of him.
“Honestly, the hardest part is getting to the point where my legs are right now, the way they feel,” Cespedes said. “They can still feel better, but the way that they feel right now, I didn’t think I could get to this point, and that’s been the hardest part.”
The path Cespedes took to feel this prepared for opening day was arduous. He last played in a big league game on July 20, 2018 against the Yankees in the Bronx. He went 2 for 4 with a home run, and hours later announced he’d need double-heel surgery due to calcification in both of his heels. In the middle of his rehab from that surgery, Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen announced Cespedes would require another surgery, this time on his ankle, following an accident with a wild boar on his ranch in Port St. Lucie.
Cespedes’ latest surgery, caused by an injury that occurred off the field, led to the Mets restructuring his contract with a massive pay cut. The slugger has worked back from unimaginable and bizarre challenges to be where he was on Saturday: feeling positive about his body, his health and his ability to contribute this year.
“To be honest, I’m not out here to prove anything to anyone,” Cespedes said. “I’m out here to prove something to myself, that after three surgeries I can come back and play the way that I know that I can.”
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