For the first time this season, OF Jay Bruce and LHP Jason Vargas are seemingly both healthy and finally producing for the Mets.
Bruce returned from the disabled list and started in right field on Friday, after which he has three hits, including a double and a home run, in 11 plate appearances.
Overall, he's hitting .215 and on pace to hit fewer than 10 home runs for the first time since during his 11-year career.
"It's something I am not proud of, but I can only move forward," Bruce admitted Friday. "I have little over a month this year and two more seasons to right the ship."
This past weekend, Mets manager Mickey Callaway said Bruce will soon be getting time at first base. What's more, despite Triple-A 1B prospect Peter Alonso gaining national attention and leading his league in home runs, Callaway said it's possible Bruce becomes the team's full-time first baseman next season.
"One thing I do know is we want to see him at first base quite a lot," Callaway the next day. "I think we need to make some sort of determination going into the offseason whether it is feasible bringing him back as a first baseman next year. ... I definitely think that is a possibility. I think that is one of the things we need to find out this last part of the season."
Interestingly, if Bruce is still in need of correcting the plantar fasciitis in his heel, which he first complained about in spring training, first base may actually be a better option for him because he'll be more mobile and able to keep blood flowing through the foot. In the outfield, he's more sedentary, putting weight on his heels, which will not only create further pain in his feet, but also create possible pain in his lower back, which is what extended his most recent stay on the DL.
Bruce entered this season having played at least 137 games each of the last eight seasons, the last half of which he hit at least 30 home runs each year. After signing his first free agent contract at 30 years old -- a three-year, $39 million deal with the Mets -- he has missed 64 games this season.
During the past two years, Bruce has played 17 games at first base, all but one of which was with the Mets. For the most part, he's been a slightly-below average fielding first baseman. But he's also been a slightly-below average right fielder.
"He's slow, that's the problem," an NL scout told me. "He's got a slow first step so balls will get by him. Also he's late making adjustments, which is going to impact the other guys on the infield. His arm is OK, but it's also just OK in the outfield."
The point is, similar to right field, while he makes all of the routine plays and maybe ones slightly out of direct reach, anything beyond routine is going to be a challenge.
"If they're planning on me playing pretty much exclusively first base, I would appreciate them letting me know so I would have an offseason to prepare," Bruce added. "I've got both gloves in my locker, so whatever they tell me I am doing I will do."
I've repeatedly said over the past week or so that I expect Alonso to be promoted even if just in September, despite reports and public statements from the Mets saying otherwise. My hunch has long been that Bruce will get time at first base to show he's healthy, rediscovered his power and able to play first base and outfield.
Then, in September, Alonso will get a crack at it. This way, come the offseason when a new GM is put in place, he or she will have as much information about these two first basemen as possible when making decisions about the future.
Meanwhile, Jason Vargas, who has otherwise been terrible most of this season, surprisingly tossed six shutout innings Saturday against the Nationals.
Vargas entered the game with a 7.67 ERA, but allowed just three hits and struck out eight batters after throwing 91 pitches.
More impressive, in three starts since returning from the DL, he has a 2.08 ERA.
"I have been able to keep the ball down in the strike zone and -- I think for the most part -- that leads to more success for me, being that I have to throw my off-speed pitches down there as well," Vargas said after the game. "Usually when I can command the ball down in the strike zone, I can have some success."
Callaway said he believes the key to the pitcher's recent success is simply being able to find a routine, stick with out and pitch every five days.
Vargas, who made at least 30 starts in five of his last six seasons, has made only 15 starts this season for the Mets, with whom he has had starts skipped, pitched on short rest, missed time to begin the year after having surgery on his right hand, and most recently missed a month with a calf strain.
"If you want to see the best version of who you are, having a routine is essential," Callaway explained. "That is one thing we preach above all other things."
The Mets signed Vargas this past winter to a two-year, $16 million deal.
His recent run of success will help validate Callaway, who last week said he continued to view the left-handed Vargas as his ideal fifth starter next season behind Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler.
"I think we're the best team we can possibly be with Vargas being the guy he was last year in our rotation," Callaway said. "I think we all feel confident that Jason, when he gets going and gets on a good schedule, he's going to be competitive."
Vargas was 18-11 with a 4.67 ERA and 1.33 WHIP for the Royals last season, during which he made the American League All-Star Team.
The concern I have with Vargas -- be it this or next season -- is that he's an average pitcher with average "stuff." The thing is, even with average "stuff," he somehow had a terrific end to his 2016 and an unbelievable April last season. Outside of those two months, though, and especially during the past year, he's looking more or less like the same pitcher he's always been, which is just an average guy. He wasn't very good for the Royals during most of 2017, and -- until recently -- he's been more or less terrible this season.
The best I can tell is that for him to be successful, he has to throw inside to right-handed batters and keep them off-balance by mixing up his fastball and change up. If he can do this and continue to pitch well between now and October, and if he returns to getting swings and misses -- no matter where he puts the ball -- I think the Mets can operate this winter under the assumption he can be their back-of-the-rotation guy next year.
However, if he again starts missing inside or lacking command of his two top pitches -- let alone his curve ball -- I can't see how the Mets wouldn't view him as a sporadic pitcher and someone that is a last resort when rounding out the rotation this offseason.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!