Tejada looks to shake slump, finish strong

MIAMI -- In part because English is his second language and in part because he is quiet by nature, Ruben Tejada isn’t a media darling.

But Mets manager Terry Collins made it clear on Sunday that he appreciates his 22-year-old shortstop. “He’s got tremendous potential,” Collins said. “We all knew he was a solid defender. ... He’s not overly fast, but he has a great first step.

“But I’m not sure anyone expected the offensive side -- getting on base, working the counts -- on a daily basis.”

Collins said he initially thought he’d hit Tejada lower in the batting order to protect the young player in his first full season.

“But then he ends up being our leadoff hitter,” Collins said. “He just knows how to play. He knows counts. He studies what the location is going to be. He’s been impressive. He’s impressed me. He knows the game.”

Tejada, who was rested for the start of Sunday’s Marlins game with Ronny Cedeno playing in his place, is batting .295 with 23 doubles and 44 runs scored, all career highs, in 88 games.

He has played in the majors in parts of the past three seasons, although he has yet to reach 100 games due to injuries and the fact that the Mets previously had Jose Reyes at shortstop.

Now the job belongs to Tejada, who has shown the talent to make Mets fans believe he will be there for years to come.

Tejada, a native of Panama who has been in the Mets' organization since age 16, is pleased with his first year in the post-Reyes era.

“It’s been a successful season for me,” said Tejada, speaking in Spanish. “We’ve got a few games left, and I want to finish strong and focused, that’s the main thing.”

Tejada, who has seen his average drop about 25 points in the past couple weeks, said he feels good and says the slump is something all players go through.

Collins, though, said he has seen signs of Tejada fading a bit and his swing getting long.

“He’s getting tired,” Collins said. “But he also had six weeks off (due to injury). He’s got general fatigue, but he’s also not in the late-season mode of having played 120 games.”

Once the season ends, Tejada said he will remain in New York and work on strengthening his right quadriceps, the injury that kept him out this season from May 7 until he returned June 24.

If he can stay healthy, Tejada’s future appears bright. At $491,000 per year and not arbitration eligible until 2014, Tejada is a huge bargain for the Mets.

The Mets saved big money when they let Reyes walk to the Marlins and put Tejada in his place. Of course, many Mets fans would have preferred the team keep both players, with Tejada sliding over to second base.

“Shortstop is my natural position,” Tejada said. “But if Jose had stayed, I would have adjusted and played second base.”

That’s typical Tejada -- quiet, unassuming, not prone to the controversial quote ... or, often, any quote at all.

Asked about what the team needs to contend in 2013, Tejada said he has confidence in Mets management. “It’s not for me to say what the team needs,” Tejada said. “We had a good first half. To me, we have a good team. We have a good mix of young players and veterans.”