Juan Lagares officially landed on the disabled list Tuesday night with a pulled hamstring, depriving the Mets of their most productive player to start the season. But for one night at least, they found a capable impersonator in Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
In helping the Mets to a 9-0 blowout of the Diamondbacks, Nieuwenhuis staged a Lagares-like performance. At the plate, he went 3-for-5 with a two-run homer and three RBIs. In the field, he took away two hits, first with a diving stab and then with a running catch deep into the gap.
"It's good to be back," said Nieuwenhuis, summoned from Triple-A Las Vegas on Tuesday. "I had a lot of fun. It was a good win for us."
Still, the Mets will be stung by the loss of Lagares, who leads the Mets in batting average (.314) and ranks second to Lucas Duda in on-base percentage (.345) and slugging (.471). According to wins above replacement, which measures overall production, Lagares has been the most valuable player on the roster. Now, the Mets will be without him for the next two weeks, at least.
"I feel a little better, you know?" Lagares said. "But at the same time, I feel bad because I can't be out there."
Collins said he and Lagares spoke Tuesday about the risk of pushing through the injury and the importance of being cautious.
"That's the problem with hamstrings," Lagares said. "You have to make sure you're 100 percent, because if you go out there like that, it can be bad."
The Mets began the season with concerns about Lagares' offense. But he thrived in an everyday role, which opened up when a quad strain landed outfielder Chris Young on the disabled list.
Young is expected to be activated Friday. Until then, the Mets might be forced to play with a shortage of outfielders.
Rightfielder Curtis Granderson collided with the wall Monday night, leaving him with contusions on his left forearm, rib cage and knee. He expects to be playing in a few days.
"As of right now, things are pretty good," said Granderson, who appeared to move with much more ease Tuesday. "Even walking around was a lot better than I expected."
But until Granderson returns and Young comes off the disabled list, Nieuwenhuis, Eric Young Jr. and Andrew Brown will be the available outfielders.
Collins said Duda primarily will play first base.
Nieuwenhuis had slipped in the organization's depth chart during the past year. After opening eyes in 2012, he hit just .189 with 32 strikeouts in 95 at-bats last season with the Mets.
But in the offseason, Nieuwenhuis studied video to cut down his swing and reduce his strikeouts. He put together a solid spring training, hitting .256 with a .370 on-base percentage.
Nieuwenhuis kept swinging a hot bat at Triple-A Las Vegas. In 10 games, he was hitting .310 with two homers and eight RBIs. He reached base at a .341 clip.
He wasted little time with the Mets. In the first, he singled to centerfield to knock in a run. In the fourth, his mammoth two-run homer landed past the Chase Field swimming pool in right-center.
"Once in a while, you get caught up in the numbers game at this level, and he did that," Collins said. "But if he keeps swinging the bat, he'll help us."