Both Angel Pagan and Gary Matthews Jr. played very well in spring training -- well enough that Mets manager Jerry Manuel suggested that the two centerfielders would share playing time based on matchups until Carlos Beltran returns to the active roster. But Matthews has played in both games this season and Manuel indicates that he will play once again today.
In fact, Pagan has been relegated to pinch-hitting duties as he has come off the bench in the first two contests. Matchups would have certainly been in Pagan’s favor as he was 3-for-6 lifetime against last night’s starter Ricky Nolasco while Matthews had never faced the hard throwing righthander.
But there is more at work here than just matchups. Without Jose Reyes in the lineup, the Mets are in dire need of a legitimate leadoff-hitting presence and the best player to fill that job description is Pagan, whose on-base percentage coupled with a speed game could help the Mets manufacture some runs. Matthews cannot fulfill that need, and the two players are pretty even when it comes to defensive skills.
I do think Matthews has earned some playing time, but the key word here is some. When the Mets face Nate Robertson tonight in the rubber game of their series with the Marlins, Manuel plans to rest Alex Cora and play Ruben Tejada, who we are told will lead off. This would be a perfect spot to play Pagan and insert him in that spot in the order, but for some reason the Mets' manager is resisting the obvious move.
Manuel has said that he hopes to get every player on his roster some starting time because he wants the bats to remain sharp. But it will be the fourth game at the very least before Pagan gets a start and when you consider every offensive player with the exception of Frank Catalanotto will have started a game by then, you wonder why he is singling out Pagan, who had an impressive spring.
We’ve seen these curious moves before from Manuel, with his handling of Jeremy Reed, Ryan Church and Ramon Castro a year ago and I am trying to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. But I just do not see the logic of not giving Pagan some playing time.