With Andres Torres (calf) joining Scott Hairston (oblique) on the sidelines, Jason Bay volunteered to take over in center field for the Mets.
Torres is still hopeful of being ready for Opening Day, but Hairston is probably DL bound. The Mets’ third-best option in center field, prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis, is also nursing an oblique strain.
That leaves the Mets with Jason Bay, fellow corner outfielder Mike Baxter, pitcher-turner-right fielder Adam Loewen and second baseman Jordany Valdespin as their center field options at the moment.
And none of those are ideal. Bay, who lost a step or two due to knee woes, last played center with the Pirates in 2005. Baxter played 43 games there in the minors, but two-thirds of those were in A ball in 2006-07. Loewen played 16 games in center in Triple-A last year and made errors on three of his 40 chances (good for a .925 fielding percentage). Valdespin has made one outfield appearance his entire pro career, that coming in the Dominican Summer League in 2007.
For what it’s worth, Baxter got the start in center in Wednesday’s exhibition game. Don’t be surprised if the Mets pick up another outfielder on waivers at some point within the next couple of weeks.
Scott Hairston’s oblique strain leaves the Mets in need of a backup center fielder behind starter Andres Torres and converted pitcher Adam Loewen has a legitimate chance to claim the gig.
Loewen was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2002 draft and started 29 games in the majors for the Orioles by age 24, but gave up pitching in 2009 following injuries and ineffectiveness.
He spent last season at Triple-A in the Blue Jays’ system, hitting .306 with 17 homers and an .884 OPS in 134 games. Impressive raw numbers, although Las Vegas is an extremely hitter-friendly environment and his 136/61 K/BB ratio wasn’t as encouraging.
Oh, and he’s played just 18 career games in center field, so even if Loewen can hit in the majors the jury is still very much out on whether he can field the position adequately. Of course, his primary competition is Mike Baxter and he’s a career-long infielder with just 43 games in center field.
All of which means the Mets are really counting on Torres to stay healthy after missing 50 games last season.
Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com reports that Scott Hairston was pulled from an intrasquad game today due to a strained left oblique. This is the very same injury which ended his season last August.
“Same as last year, pretty much,” Hairston said about the current issue. “I felt it on the swing out there. I felt it grab. And once I felt it grab, I figured it wouldn’t be a good idea to take another swing. … I wouldn’t think it’s as serious as it was last year. I think right now, the way I feel, it’s one of those things where I know it’s injured, but it’s not severe.”
Hairston is expected to receive a cortisone shot on Monday, but Mets’ manager Terry Collins said he is naturally “concerned” given that the injury kept him on the shelf for the final five weeks of the 2011 season. Non-roster invitee Adam Loewen is now expected to get more playing time in center field as a potential backup for Andres Torres. Vinny Rottino, who previously appeared in the big leagues with the Brewers and Marlins, could also be in the mix as a right-handed bat off the bench.
Hairston, 31, batted .235/.303/.470 with seven home runs, 24 RBI and a .773 OPS over 145 plate appearances as a reserve outfielder last season. He was brought back this winter on a one-year, $1.1 million contract.