It was Paul Sewald who squandered a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning, but Travis d’Arnaud tied the score at 2 with a home run in the seventh. In the ninth, though, the Mets’ Fernando Salas gave up a double to Dansby Swanson, who scored on a game-ending single by Rio Ruiz off Josh Edgin.
The Mets managed just five hits — two from Jay Bruce — but they will receive a needed infusion of talent on Saturday. In Cespedes’s absence, Michael Conforto, who barely made the opening-day roster, emerged as the Mets’ best hitter this season. Entering Friday, Conforto’s 1.032 on-base plus slugging percentage was the seventh best in the majors.
Now, with Cespedes back and Conforto as a mainstay of the lineup, Collins will have to increasingly juggle playing time in the outfield.
“We’ll flip-flop and move guys around and try to get everybody some playing time,” he said.
In addition to Conforto, Bruce has been a key contributor to the team’s offense. He leads the Mets with 15 home runs and 40 R.B.I. and plays exclusively in right field.
So in all likelihood, Collins will now deploy a starting outfield that has Cespedes in left, Conforto in center and Bruce in right. And that would mean less playing time for Curtis Granderson.
But Granderson, a veteran outfielder who started the season in a deep slump, has hit better of late. His .655 O.P.S. entering Friday was near the bottom among qualified hitters in the majors, but he had hit .270, with four home runs and a solid .888 O.P.S. during the previous 31 games. He added a home run on Friday.
Still, Collins noted, “You can only play three.”
Collins added: “Right now, as you can imagine, we’ll be a little careful with Ces. We’re going to work him back in there.”
The Mets have ample reason to be cautious with Cespedes, who has a history of leg problems throughout his career, including his time in New York. Cespedes originally hurt his left hamstring on April 20 and left that game early. He did not want to go on the disabled list and insisted he needed just a few days to recover. He returned to the lineup after five days of rest when he said he felt better.
But in his second game back, he lasted only four innings, limping off the field after running out a double.
As Cespedes then endured what became an extended rehabilitation, the Mets started evaluating everything about Cespedes’s daily regimen — from how he hydrates himself to what kind of workouts he does — in an effort to determine why he keeps getting hurt.
The Mets even flew Cespedes to New York to have his lower back examined to determine if it was contributing to his leg issues, but nothing of concern was found.
Cespedes, 31, is known for his heavy power lifting. He said in spring training that he spent the off-season trying to improve his legs in order to avoid an injury. But whatever he did, it did not work.
So to keep Cespedes on the field, the Mets will perhaps now urge more water consumption on his part and a different training routine, maybe with more stretching.
The Mets originally hoped to have Cespedes return earlier this week, but he felt soreness in his right quadriceps after his first minor league rehabilitation game last weekend. Cespedes rested and resumed his rehabilitation assignment on Thursday, playing a full game with Class A St. Lucie.
As Cespedes returned, the Mets were suddenly dealing with the absence of second baseman Neil Walker. He missed his second straight game on Friday with swelling in his left knee.
It is the rhythm of the Mets, players getting hurt, players slowly recovering. Also due back this weekend are two starting pitchers, Steven Matz (in Saturday’s nightcap) and Seth Lugo (on Sunday), who have been out since spring training with elbow injuries.
The Mets will ease them back into what will become a six-man rotation, which, the team hopes, will help during a tough stretch of 18 games in 17 days. The Mets are just 25-33 this season and need to turn things around fairly soon.
Cespedes’s return should help, as will the presence of Matz and Lugo. And then the Mets have to hope that Walker is back soon, too. With the Mets, injuries always seem to be just offstage.
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