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Life Stages in Los Angeles

Zack Wheeler [1], 27; first major league appearance, June 18, 2013
His Monday night numbers of note: 2 IP, 7 ER, 8 H
What it means at this stage of his career: Nothing good, though “this stage of his career” doesn’t sync with the arithmetic that his major league debut was just over four years ago. We know Wheeler missed what should have been his third and fourth seasons and is only in his third season now. Perhaps a batting practice line or two was to be expected in his comeback campaign. He’s had two in a row after pitching for several starts like there’d never been anything wrong with him except a propensity to run up pitch counts. The saying that you have to get to some pitchers early if you want to get them at all seems to apply to Wheeler, but not for the usual complimentary reasons, for there has been no later for Zack of late. This might be an optimal time to pause him, except the Mets don’t have an optimal time in their rotation. Let’s hope Zack’s OK and that the Dodgers were simply hotter than hot when his pitches ran into their bats.

Rafael Montero [2], 26; first major league appearance, May 14, 2014
His Monday night numbers of note: 3.2 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 5 SO
What it means at this stage of his career: Ah, who the hell knows? Rafael pitched a second consecutive competent long-relief stint inside of a week in his…I’m gonna say eighty-fourth trial with the Mets. His timing was keen in the short term, keeping the Mets sort of viable, and terrible in the slightly longer term, likely eliminating himself from a chance to start on Wednesday night. I’d say his back-to-back solid outings are encouraging, but I’ve probably said stuff like that before and I’m not prone to believe it based on the myriad mushy outings Montero has turned in during his other eighty-three trials. But he did earn the Bigelow Tease award for his role in getting our hopes up ever so marginally. We were down 7-0 and even the sleepy among us wouldn’t so quickly submit to the demands of our eyelids because we weren’t down more. (God, we’re dullards that way.)

Jose Reyes [3], 34; first major league appearance, June 11, 2003
His Monday night numbers of note: 2 HR, 3 RBI
What it means at this stage of his career: Some life remains detectable in the Mets’ temporary starting shortstop, previously the Mets’ default starting third baseman, theoretically the superutilityman of Spring Training chatter. Jose’s .198 average doesn’t speak very loudly, and I certainly expected to hear it say nothing versus Clayton Kershaw [4]. Once it was 7-0, L.A., I expected a serious flirtation with a perfect game. The Dodger Stadium mound…the comps to Sandy Koufax [5]…the Mets being the Mets…yet Jose broke it up to lead off the third by homering, and he pushed the Mets into nipping at the ace’s impenetrable advantage when he homered again in the seventh to close the gap to 8-6. Not that it did the Mets any good in the end, an end that would be spelled 10-6, Dodgers [6], but with Asdrubal Cabrera [7] several days away and Amed Rosario’s ETA TBD, I was happy to see Reyes add to the numbers he’s been compiling since 2003, save for a gap between 2012 and 2015. He passed Keith Hernandez [8] for sole possession of ninth place on the Mets career RBI chart (471) and he edged to within four of Ed Kranepool [9] for second place on the Mets career hit list (1,414). I don’t know how much Mets baseball Jose has left, but I’d like him to do as much as he can with however much he can get his bat on.

Jay Bruce [10], 30; first major league appearance, May 27, 2008
His Monday night numbers of note: 1 HR, 1 RBI
What it means at this stage of his career: We as a people entered 2017 dismissing Jay as superfluous, yet who’s the only Met who has been power-hitting on their behalf regularly since this season started? Bruce has 19 home runs, five more than any other Met and 48 runs batted in, ten ahead of his nearest teammate. Tell me home runs are flying everywhere these days and school me about how RBIs don’t indicate as much as we grew up assuming they did, but home runs and runs batted in sure are helpful in the course of a game. Bruce, like Reyes, seems to have a talent for eliciting gophers out of Kershaw (as a Red he’d taken Clayton deep twice). That alone is impressive. So is his 131 OPS+, second on the team to Michael Conforto [11]. For all the squeezing in of outfielders it was thought Terry Collins was going to have to do, Jay hasn’t surrendered right field nor a spot in the batting order.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. He’s been hitting balls out of ballparks since Shea Stadium stood. Our first exposure to him was directly following the 2008 All-Star Game. The Mets were in Cincinnati for a four-game set. Billy Joel was in Flushing, presenting The Last Play at Shea [12]. On the night Paul McCartney jetted in to musically close the old place down at Billy’s behest, Bruce was letting it be against John Maine [13], hitting the seventh home run of his rookie season in his second game ever versus the Mets. The visiting New Yorkers lost, 5-2, snapping their contention-reviving ten-game winning streak [14] and dropping them one game behind the fearsome Phillies for first place. A couple of handfuls of players from that box score of July 18, 2008, still roam the MLB earth or at least sit tight on its disabled lists: Reyes, Carlos Beltran [15], David Wright [16], Joe Smith [17], Brandon Phillips [18], Joey Votto [19], Edwin Encarnacion [20], Bronson Arroyo [21]. Ken Griffey, Jr. [22], is in the Hall of Fame. Carlos Delgado [23] fell off the Hall ballot after one vote. We haven’t heard much lately from the likes of Maine, Fernando Tatis [24], Damion Easley [25] or Met reserve turned Red shortstop Jeff Keppinger [26]. Jay we know has walloped 253 more home runs since Billy and Paul said good night. If we do math, we know he’s on pace to pass Beltran and Todd Hundley [27] for the Mets’ single-season home run mark of 41. “On pace” is tricky calculation — fairly easy to discern, not necessarily simple to maintain. Ten-year veteran Jay Bruce maintains a starting job based on consistent production. The Mets are in fourth with him, might be much closer to the no longer fearsome Phillies in fifth without him. Bruce is probably gone before 2018 comes around. Until further notice, let him be, let him be.

Gavin Cecchini [28], 23; first major league appearance, September 11, 2016
His Monday night numbers of note: 1 HR, 2 RBI
What it means at this stage of his career: Cecchini has started one game in the big leagues, and in it he homered off Clayton Bleeping Kershaw. That would be enough of a career for most of us. Cecchini probably would like more. He probably also projected more games and more starts by now when the Mets made him their first draft choice of 2013. He was eager and ready to go, I can say from personal observation, having been at the kid’s introductory press conference four years ago. The Mets were giddy with All-Star Game preparation fever and invited some bloggers into their lair (something they got out of the habit of doing by 2015). We met Cecchini and Kevin Plawecki [29], also chosen in that year’s first round. They seemed like fine young men, except for Cecchini revealing he liked wearing No. 2 out of appreciation for a certain shortstop who played in a nearby borough. Even Sandy Alderson groaned at that revelation.

The Mets sought attention for another youngster that night, 2011 first pick Brandon Nimmo [30]. With enough online votes, Nimmo could join the Futures game that would be played ahead of the Midsummer Classic that Matt Harvey [31] was a near-lock to start. They put Brandon on a conference call with us and he sounded like a young (younger) David Wright. Nimmo made that game — along with Montero and Noah Syndergaard [32] — but not the majors until 2016. Nimmo had a pinch-hit last night, his first hit of this year. He had one homer all of last year. Plawecki’s been up and down across three years. Dom Smith was the club’s No. 1 pick in 2012 and he’s generally the second name we mention when we mention Met prospects most of us have barely seen. It’s 2017. These things can take a while and they carry no guarantees. [33] Cecchini was a shortstop when he was drafted, was a second baseman in Terry’s lineup Monday night, will be something for somebody eventually, you’d figure. The Mets’ infield, despite its chronic aches, seems crowded. We’ll see if there’s space available for this still fine young man for whom I constructed the private nickname Gavin MacClout once he slaughtered [34] a pitch from Kershaw. A guy who can say he homered off Clayton Kershaw practically the first chance he got shouldn’t have to ask too loudly for another opportunity.