Offense to Dictate Which Corner Outfielder Will Start or Sit

February 24, 2009

On September 16, 2008, the New York Mets dropped their second straight game to the lowly Washington Nationals. Not only were they shutout that night, 1-0, but their position atop the NL East went from first to second place. That disappointing night for the Mets also marked another devastating loss: the loss of one of last year’s key players, Fernando Tatis. Tatis was attempting to snag a blooper hit by then Nationals’ pitcher Odalis Perez, when he missed the ball on the way down and landed on his right side. The fall ultimately knocked him out for the rest of the 2008 season with a separated shoulder.

At the conclusion of the season, Tatis received many accolades for coming through in the clutch, earning him the award for NL Comeback Player of the Year. Last October, the Mets rewarded the 34 year-old utility player with a one year contract and told him to be ready for spring training.

“I feel fine now — I didn’t need surgery and I will be ready to go in the spring,” Tatis said.

With Tatis on-board, the Mets seemed satisfied and eager to continue using a platoon situation in left field. The veteran Tatis would be given the start against left-handers and the emerging Daniel Murphy would be plugged into the lineup against right-handers. However, this past weekend, Mets manager Jerry Manuel had a change of heart. He decided to ditch the idea altogether and give the starting job exclusively to Murphy.

“I don’t want him to get into a strictly platoon situation,” Manuel said of Murphy. “I think he’s a little better player than that.”

By making Murphy the everyday left fielder, Manuel was asked what his plans for Tatis were. Manuel’s response? The Mets manager suggested the veteran could now be a platoon for Ryan Church in right field. Church struggled against left-handed pitching last season after his return from the disabled list.

Acting as if he was the last to know, Church broached the subject with his skipper. “I knew all I had to do was talk to him. He’s very approachable. He’ll tell you how it is. He came up to me and said, ‘Don’t worry about it — you’re getting prepared to be the everyday right fielder for the New York Mets.'”

Since day one, Manuel has preached that his job is to predict which players will give him the best chance of winning. Ideally, he would love to have both left-handed hitting outfielders, Church and Murphy, make contact when facing both righties and lefties. If that’s the case, Tatis would be utilized as a right-handed hitting threat coming off the bench. Problem solved.

“He’s the boss,” Church said. “I can’t write my name in the lineup card. All I can do is control what I do on the field, and make sure I’m ready and do what he says. He’s our general, and I’ll go to war with him any day.”

By starting Murphy no matter who the opposing starter is on the mound, it allows the Mets to play the hot hand. In just 131 at-bats last season, Murphy batted .313 with 41 hits and finished the season with a .397 on-base percentage.

“I’m going to treat this just like I’m trying to win a job for the next month that we’re here,” Murphy said. “My job is still to get ready to play, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

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