The turning point of yesterday’s Mets 9-4 loss to the Phillies came in the top of the fifth. The Mets had narrowed the Phillies’ lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the fourth on an Ike Davis sacrifice fly. The Phillies had runners on first and second in the top of the fifth, with one out and Ryan Howard at the plate. Howard hit a screaming one-hopper right at Ruben Tejada. It was a tailor-made double play ball, but it ricocheted off of Tejada and into left field. Instead of the inning being over with the Mets trailing by one, the Phillies had a run in, and ended up adding four more in the frame. Some said that Jimmy Rollins, the runner on second, screened Tejada on the play. Regardless, in the major leagues, that play absolutely has to be made.
Ruben Tejada has been an interesting story since the beginning of spring training. After opening the Mets’ grapefruit league season with a home run off Stephen Strasburg, Tejada struggled mightily at the plate for the remainder of spring training. Once the season began, Tejada seemed to carry his offensive cold streak north, while adding in a new element of defensive inconsistency. Tejada’s struggles in the cold climate of Denver earlier this month have been well documented. This week, he made some outstanding plays in the field, but did not make one he needed to make yesterday. Tejada is a player who has to be nearly flawless in the field. Though he hit .289 last year, he did so with an OBP of .333. Tejada consistently runs deep counts, but he walked only 27 times in 501 plate appearances last year. This year, he’s hitting .224 with an OBP of .314. He has 9 walks in 87 plate appearances.
Perhaps one of the issues with Tejada is that the Mets don’t know who he is, and what he is capable or incapable of doing. When Tejada first came up in 2010, he played some second base, and filled in for Jose Reyes, both in 2010 and 2011. When Reyes signed with the Marlins, the shortstop job was bestowed upon the 22-year-old (he’s now 23) Tejada, who had really not been given time to develop into the player that he will ultimately be. The Mets have tried to make Tejada a leadoff hitter, which I think is a terrible idea. Tejada has no speed, and does not deliver the OBP that a leadoff hitter should. Tejada has also hit second in the order, as well as eighth. The expectations of all of these slots in the order are vastly different, and at a very young age, Tejada has been asked to adjust on the fly, and in the major leagues. The argument can be made that the Mets are not handling Tejada appropriately, and this is likely an outcome of an unsettled ball club, trying to find some winning combination. It’s on-the-job training defined.
There were reports during the off-season that Tejada was not in the organization’s plans as its long-term shortstop, and that he was shopped in a few deals (including the Justin Upton talks). In my opinion, ever since I first saw Tejada, he projected as a backup middle infielder. He’ll generally give you solid defense, and hit just enough to warrant a roster spot. If the Mets decide to look in another direction at shortstop, that decision may be the right one.