Initially, the injury suffered by Mike Baxter running into the left field wall to make a crucial play to preserve Johan Santana‘s no-hitter was supposed to take about six weeks to recover. Here were are, a little over a month after he suffered the injury and he still hasn’t started a rehab assignment yet. However, according to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, Baxter is finally making some progress.
New York’s pinch hitting specialist was reportedly heading down to the Mets’ spring training complex in Florida Wednesday to take steps toward eventually returning to the roster. Baxter has yet to run, but has reported that he now has full range of motion in his shoulder and has been hitting off a tee recently. It is not expected that he will see live pitching immediately upon his arrival in Port St. Lucie, but it shouldn’t be too far in the future, as long as he doesn’t experience any setbacks.
Meanwhile, fellow outfielder Jason Bayspoke to the media Wednesday as well, reiterating that he hasn’t experienced any recurring symptoms of his concussion, and plans on joining Baxter in Florida no later than Friday. Fans must be excited to see Baxter start
making strides toward returning to the Mets, especially since he was such a great weapon for Terry Collins to use in various situations. Coming into spring training, he knew that he was competing for a role coming off the bench and pinch hitting, and it was clear that he bought into the system, becoming Collins’ first choice for a pinch hitter late in the game.
In 65 at-bats, the New York outfielder put together a triple slash of .323/.392/.523 and was so hot in the middle of May that Collins had no choice but continue to put him in the starting lineup. His performance in “clutch” situations (later than the seventh inning, deficit less than three runs) and with runners in scoring position is more impressive. As a pinch hitter, what he does in these two situations are vital because he will likely be put into these situations on a nightly basis. It seems that more often than not, he answers the call.
In eight at-bats during late/close situations, Baxter is hitting .375/.583/.625, which includes 2 RBI, 4 walks, and 4 runs scored. There are many pinch hitters that step to the plate and are impatient because they want to force something to happen, but not Baxter. Also, with runners in scoring position, he’s .529/.591/.941 in 17 at-bats. That’s a small sample size, but still incredibly impressive when it is realized he does a lot of work off the bench. Pinch hitting is the hardest thing to do in sports because it’s so tough to walk up to the plate in a crucial situation late in the game, completely cold. However, Baxter practically has it down to a science.
Another stunning statistic is the increase of solid contact this season compared to last. In his 40 at-bats in 2011, he hit line drives 8% of the time, while hitting fly balls at a 60% rate. In 2012, his line drive rate has jumped to 34% of the time, while his fly ball rate has dropped drastically to 29.8%. Seeing those ratios explain why his BABIP has jumped from .292 in ’11 to .447 in ’12. There is still no timetable for Baxter’s return, but let’s hope it will be sooner rather than later.