QUEENS — For the second time in as many games, Mets slugging catcher Francisco Alvarez got the nod to bat second in the lineup for Tuesday night’s series opener against the Philadelphia Phillies after his first 108 plate appearances of the 2023 season came in either the No. 8 or No. 9 spot.
With Phillies southpaw Ranger Suarez on the hill, it was a decision that Mets manager Buck Showalter wanted to give another try after Alvarez hit his eighth home run of the season — a three-run shot — during Sunday’s 11-10 loss to the Colorado Rockies. But it’s something that Mets fans shouldn’t get used to.
“I don’t think that will evolve, but who knows?” Showalter asked on Tuesday. “But today with the left-hander and where the roster is — I think [Starling] Marte is starting to get back to being Starling. I’d like to get him back there at some point.”
Marte, the 34-year-old right-fielder, had an All-Star campaign in his first year with the Mets in 2022 predominantly batting out of that No. 2 spot, but has been slowed down by offseason double-groin surgery and a neck injury that had greatly limited his production this spring.
Over his last 17 games, he’s batting .298 with one home run, eight RBI, and five stolen bases. But it hasn’t compared to the sort of production Alvarez has pieced together. In his previous 20 games prior to Tuesday night’s series opener, he slashed .309/.382/.706 (1.088 OPS) with seven home runs and 17 RBI.
Given the Mets’ overarching lack of offensive consistency, the 21-year-old catcher’s bat is too valuable not to have near the top of the order, especially in a No. 2 spot that has seen the placement of a power bat popularized especially in recent years by the cross-town Yankees with Aaron Judge often penciled in there.
“The game’s different,” Showalter said. “It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. I think the conventional way that people looked at two-hole hitters is different, but it depends on what your talent is. It used to be a book you got: ‘Okay, a who bats first should be able to do this and a guy who bats second should be able to do this… That doesn’t exist anymore.’ …
“I’ve seen printouts that say your most productive hitter should bat first because it’s all about getting extra at-bats. To heck with who’s behind him or who’s in front of them. Just get your best guy out there as many times as possible. And then you find another theory that will tell you something else.”
Showalter has shown a hesitancy at times to play his young stars like Alvarez, Brett Baty, and Mark Vientos in prominent spots within the batting order, but loyalty to veteran players has to take a back seat when the Mets are struggling to toe the .500 line heading into June.
“I think Francisco has a chance to be a force in a lot of different spots,” he said.