NEW YORK (AP)All-Star right fielder Starling Marte was in the New York Mets’ starting lineup for their playoff opener Friday night against San Diego, back from a broken finger that sidelined him the past month.
Marte had been out since breaking the middle finger on his right (throwing) hand Sept. 6 when hit by a 96 mph fastball from Pittsburgh’s Mitch Keller.
Batting sixth, Marte grounded a single up the middle leading off the second inning against Padres starter Yu Darvish and then stole second and third – sliding headfirst into both bases.
Before the game, Mets manager Buck Showalter said Marte had been taking simulated at-bats against teammates ”behind the scenes” for a little while in an attempt to get ready, including Thursday. Showalter, however, acknowledged the club wasn’t quite sure what Marte could provide at this point.
”We knew it was a possibility,” Showalter said. ”Who knows? There’s some unknown there. Who’s 100% this time of year? We’ll see.”
New York also included 20-year-old Francisco Alvarez on the wild-card series roster. Alvarez debuted in the majors Sept. 30 and went 2 for 12 with a homer, a double and two walks in five regular-season games.
Normally the team’s No. 2 hitter, Marte batted .292 with 16 homers, 63 RBIs, 18 stolen bases and an .814 OPS in 118 games this season, his first with New York. He’s been working out in the outfield lately in addition to taking swings – but the Mets had said recently Marte still felt discomfort and wasn’t making much progress yet.
”I’m hoping that things go well and we move him back up tomorrow,” Showalter said.
Padres skipper Bob Melvin, who managed Marte in Oakland last year, said he wasn’t surprised to see him in the lineup.
”I expected it,” Melvin said. ”I’ve had him some. I knew if there’s any way he could get in there, he was going to be in there.”
Alvarez, rated baseball’s top prospect by MLB.com before his call-up from the minors, brings a right-handed bat off the bench and could start at designated hitter in Game 2 against lefty Blake Snell.
”He’s handled himself well. Really like his selectiveness the last couple games,” Showalter said. ”It will get sped back up again. He’s going to be a good one. Just a matter of when. I hope it’s the next three games.”
Left-hander Sean Manaea was included on San Diego’s roster and right-hander Mike Clevinger was left off. Manaea threw 66 pitches Tuesday in a win at San Francisco; Clevinger last pitched Saturday and Melvin said Thursday he was headed to New York on a red-eye flight following a negative COVID-19 test.
”Clev was not great, not feeling great. I think he’s feeling a little better now,” Melvin explained Friday. ”We could have gone a lot of directions, flying late and the whole bit. We’ll see how we go with him. I felt like another lefty with a little length down there was important.”
The Mets made a handful of somewhat surprising decisions. With five left-handers on San Diego’s 12-man pitching staff, including four relievers, New York dropped left-handed-hitting outfielder Tyler Naquin from the roster.
Naquin is hitless in his last 18 at-bats with seven strikeouts. He batted .180 against lefties this season and .229 overall with 11 home runs.
”This is three games,” Showalter said. ”We feel like this is the best way for us to go against what we think is going to be thrown at us.”
Slumping DH Darin Ruf, a right-handed batter who had been on the injured list with a neck strain, was included on the roster and was on the bench Friday night.
”He’s been taking some at-bats for a while now, the last four or five days, and feels good. He had some good at-bats yesterday. Took about five or six, maybe more than that,” Showalter said. ”He and Starling have done a lot of work to be ready.”
Starting pitchers Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco were left off for the best-of-three series, with right-hander Tylor Megill getting a spot in the bullpen. Walker and Carrasco both started Tuesday in a doubleheader against Washington.
Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Chris Bassitt are New York’s starters for the series. Scherzer is scheduled to pitch the opener, and the result of Game 1 will determine whether it’s deGrom or Bassitt in Game 2.
Megill began the season in the rotation and pitched well early. After a long stay on the injured list with a strained right shoulder, he transitioned to the bullpen and made his first major league relief appearance on Sept. 19.
But the right-hander hasn’t quite flourished in his new role, allowing four runs over six innings in six relief outings. He went on the COVID-19 injured list Wednesday to open a roster spot for right-hander Mychal Givens, who also made the playoff roster.
Trevor Williams, who did a fine job all season as a long reliever and spot starter, was left off. The right-hander pitched six innings in the regular-season finale Wednesday to keep most of New York’s short relievers fully rested.
Both teams are carrying 12 pitchers and 14 position players.
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