Kevin Plawecki has started every game for the New York Mets when catcher Travis d’Arnaud went on the disabled list last week with a right rotator cuff strain. Last season when d’Arnaud was disabled twice, it was a revolving door behind the plate with Johnny Monell back-and-forth from Triple A Las Vegas and at times Anthony Recker filled in with a timely hit.
With Plawecki struggling at the plate and with the Mets embarking on a three-city 11-game road trip, it was time to give the backup regular a day off. The role right now as the backup, until d”Arnaud returns, belongs to veteran Rene Rivera who played 110 games for Tampa Bay last season.
Recker was acquired by the Cleveland Indians during the offseason and Monell is getting his share of hits as one of two catchers with the Mets minor league Las Vegas Triple affiliate.
After hitting his first home run, and handling starter Steven Matz with ease in the Mets 8-0 win over the Atlanta Braves Wednesday afternoon at Citi Field, there could be more playing time for Rivera. That’s not to say that Plawecki, who in 13 games has compiled six hits with a .176 average has lost his starting role as d’Arnaud works his way back from the DL.
“Catches a great game, gets a home run…that’s huge,” manager Terry Collins said about Rivera. “Even helps a guy he’s backing up, Things are running smoothly.”
Collins will never downgrade one of his players, though offense from the catcher’s spot is important for a Mets lineup that hits the home run ball. So when he said smooth, it was meant for the moment because Rivera was the perfect option to give Plawecki a day of rest on Wednesday.
And it does show that the Mets do have that depth off the bench. They can add a roster spot for insurance and use a veteran who has that big league experience. Plawecki, who spent a good portion of last season with the big club also was shuffled back and forth to Las Vegas to get more playing time and improve his production at the plate.
Also, there was the benefit of having Plawecki on the 25-man roster last season when d’Arnaud was injured because he had the experience often of handling Steven Matz, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard behind the plate while at Las Vegas, the bulk of the Mets starting pitching staff.
Syndergaard and Matz, in particular were familiar with Plawecki before they were called up at different junctures last season.
Wednesday, with Matz on the mound and tossing a career high 7.2 innings that got him his fourth win, Rivera got the scoring going with a two-run homer in the second inning, a drive to left that hooked inside the foul pole. It was his first home run since July 8, 2015 against Kansas City when he was with Tampa Bay.
“I’m here to catch,” Rivera said. “I’m here to help my pitchers. I just want to have the best at bat I can have.”
The Bayamon Puerto Rico native, and 32-year old veteran of four teams who has gone up and down in the systems of Seattle, Minnesota and San Diego does have power. He hit 11-home runs off the bench with San Diego two years ago and hit eight with Tampa Bay last season.
And for the Mets right now, it does give Collins a good option to see what Rivera can do, especially with the struggling Plawecki at the plate. The home run ball he hit came off a 1-0 pitch, a slider down the middle off losing pitcher Jhoulys Chacin.
“Just wanted to hit the ball,” Rivera said. “Whatever happens, happens. I’m here to catch and help my pitchers. At the same time, I know I can hit and produce. My main concern is my pitching staff and how I can help them.”
He added: “Once I’m in the batter’s box, I think about that a little but it’s over.” In other words, Rivera knows he can be productive at the plate and is conscious with making sure that he is following the scouting reports that are conducive to what should be thrown by his pitcher.
And there appeared to be no issue with the chemistry between Rivera and Matz, which was important because the backup catcher has been with his new team no more than a week since his call up from Las Vegas.
“We talked before the game and went over the scouting reports,” Rivera said. Because the Braves were limited to three hits, two from Matz and one from Addison Reed, and drew no walks, there were no opportunities for base runners to test his arm.
Though if they had their attempts, Rivera has that history of being second among active catchers that are toughest to steal on. St, Louis Cardinals veteran Yadier Molina is on top with a 40.3 ratio of nailing runners trying to get an extra base.
So there is no doubt why Mets GM Sandy Alderson acquired Rivera in the spring. The experience and ability to offer that needed reinforcement in the event that one or two of the Mets catchers went down, and the need for a veteran, not costly was there.
Plawecki still has his job, at least until d’Arnaud returns. But there has always been this process of when will Plawecki become the hitter that had him highly touted. It hasn’t happened and a few more games off the bench, like the one Rivera had Wednesday, well that could give him more playing time.
He said, “Always a new challenge everyday and be the best player I can be.” With a long road trip ahead, Rivera may get that challenge and Collins has a good alternative off the bench.