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Jeff McNeil returned to the Mets’ lineup after a weeklong absence on Tuesday, in time for a final push for his potential return to the National League All-Star team.
McNeil was a first-time All-Star in 2019, but he endured a rough season across the board last year with his batting average dropping to .251 and his OPS plummeting to .679. He entered Tuesday’s game against the Astros — his first appearance since last Monday due to a hamstring issue — hitting .327 this season with four homers, 33 RBIs and an improved OPS of .850.
In the most recent fan balloting released last week, McNeil was listed third among NL second basemen, behind the Marlins’ Jazz Chisholm and the Braves’ Ozzie Albies, who will be sidelined into August with a broken foot.
“I have had a good year and obviously would love to make it. I feel like I’ve done enough and feel like I’m back to myself,” McNeil said before Tuesday’s game. “I feel like it’s kind of like the first half I had in 2019, so I’m happy to be in consideration and we’ll see what happens.”
McNeil avoided a stint on the injured list after removing himself from last Monday’s game against the Marlins with tightness in his right hamstring. He attempted to play through a similar injury to his left hamstring last year and landed on the IL in May, missing three weeks.
“Everything is stronger, and I’m glad to be back,” McNeil said. “It’s something I’ve gone through before. In ’19 I had it and I think I missed six days. … I know when I’m hurt and what I can play through. This is something that’s very minor and I easily can keep going.”
McNeil made his 36th start at second base this season, compared to 24 in left field and two in right. Manager Buck Showalter said the versatility of McNeil and utility infielder Luis Guillorme has made it easier to assemble different lineup variations.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a couple of players that there’s not a real handicap there,” Showalter said. “Mac being able to play left and right and second and I’m sure he can go play third, and has some I’m told … and Louie you can play him about anywhere and get a good defensive [game].
“If you held a gun to my head and said what’s his best position and his best position, I probably could, but it’s a great thing for me to have that ability to move guys around. That’s one of the things that [GM Billy Eppler] and I, and Billy especially, was involved with in acquiring players and doing things, was the versatility that it gave us to move guys around and try to keep guys healthy. It’s very comforting.”
Showalter added that McNeil “probably could have played Sunday” in Miami, but the Mets decided to hold him out another two days with no game scheduled for Monday.
“We took some precaution because we could. If we would’ve been a different part of the season he would’ve been playing through that probably,” Showalter said. “We already had 12 or 13 days off already counting rainouts and what have you, and we’re getting close to the All-Star break. So we’ll continue to monitor it and more than anything what Jeff is saying to us.
“That’s where a lot of it comes from. And whether it’s more taxing to play the outfield or the infield or maybe a DH day. But we’ve got a pretty good feel for it through him. He gets ahead of it when he says this is what I’m feeling and this is what’s happened in the past if I continue to go down that road. … It was him listening to his body and telling us. Hopefully we’ll continue to stay ahead of it and he’ll stay off [the IL].”