Cespedes said he has dealt with heel soreness since he was in his native Cuba. He said it hurts every morning but often goes away during the course of the day. On Monday, it persisted. “I’ve always played through it,” Cespedes said.
But once Collins saw Cespedes limping out to left field before the fifth inning, he and the head athletic trainer Ray Ramirez jogged out to the outfield. Collins wanted to take Cespedes out, but Cespedes insisted the pain would go away.
Collins checked in with Cespedes again after the top half of the inning, and the pain was still there. Collins turned to two of Cespedes’s closest confidants on the team, Jose Reyes and Cabrera, who helped convey a needed message.
Collins told Cespedes he was taking him out of the game. Cespedes insisted that he needed an at-bat and that Collins should leave him in and use a pinch-runner if he reached base.
“I know he wanted to play and stay in, and he wasn’t happy about coming out,” Collins said. “But as I tried to explain, the whole big picture is: ‘We’ve got to keep you in as many games as we possibly can. So if we miss you for five innings tonight, it may save us nine innings in a day or so.’”
After Cespedes flied out to end the fifth, he relented and came out of the game. Juan Lagares took over in center field, shifting Curtis Granderson to left. The Mets were already without their best hitter this season, outfielder Michael Conforto, who was unavailable with back stiffness.
“That’s why I decided that they take me out: I’m coming back from an injury, and it’s hurting, and I can’t run properly,” Cespedes said. “So I don’t want to get hurt elsewhere because of that.”
Perhaps it is good news for the Mets that it was not an aggravation of the left hamstring problem that landed Cespedes on the disabled list on April 28 — or the right quadriceps soreness that slowed his rehabilitation.
Either way, it was another ailment for the Mets and their star slugger to deal with. Cespedes has a history of leg injuries, and the Mets thought they had been conservative with him during his rehabilitation and in his return.
Collins said it was “very frustrating” that the heel pain popped up despite the Mets’ cautious efforts.
As part of the team’s plan to ease back on Cespedes, he played in the first game of a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday — and hit a grand slam. He did not start the second game and did not start Sunday, when he was only a pinch-hitter.
Cespedes was supposed to play Monday and Tuesday, take Wednesday off, and then play three straight games after that.
Although Cespedes said he could still play on Tuesday, Collins said the Mets would wait to see how Cespedes felt.
Even without Cespedes, the Mets had enough firepower against the Cubs and starter John Lackey. Maligned for his defense this year, Cabrera was charged with his 11th error of the season in the second inning when he and Reyes, the third baseman, collided on an infield pop-up that fell in.
Cabrera quickly made up for that miscue with a home run in the bottom of the second and then hit another in the fourth. He also made nifty defensive plays later. Bruce contributed his two-run shot in the third.
Behind deGrom, Bruce’s homer would have been enough. DeGrom, who was efficient and dazzling, benefited from double plays. Improved mechanics allowed him to rely less on his fastball and more on his off-speed pitches.
When deGrom completed the eighth with a pitch count of 106, he told Collins, “I want to finish the game.” With the benefit of a six-man rotation this week, Collins allowed it. DeGrom needed only 10 more pitches in the ninth, hitting 97 miles per hour on his last one.
“The two starts before, I got my teeth kicked in, so I definitely wanted to have a good one,” he said. “Fortunately, I did.”
Over the past six games, Mets starters have allowed only four runs over 41 ⅔ innings. After injuries and inconsistencies decimated the rotation, it is finally finding its groove.
But just as that is happening, the Mets must deal with ailments to Conforto and, now, Cespedes.
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