SAN DIEGO — James McCann’s torrid week at the plate has served as a reminder of how quickly a player’s season can change.
Stuck with a .514 OPS as the first game of a doubleheader concluded last Thursday against the Rockies — and clinging to a lineup spot perhaps only because of Pete Alonso’s injury-list stint that allowed McCann to play first base — McCann’s body of work has since improved dramatically for the Mets.
He entered Thursday’s series opener against the Padres at Petco Park on a 9-for-19 (.474) tear with two homers, boosting that OPS to a still-disappointing but more palatable .650.
McCann’s surge has created maybe the only lineup debate manager Luis Rojas faces daily, as the injury-laden Mets in some instances have struggled just to fill the lineup card. McCann had lost playing time behind the plate to Tomas Nido in what has become a job share that could be here to stay, provided both players remain healthy and productive.
“It’s getting back to the thing I do well, sticking to my approach, just trying to put a good swing on it,” McCann said, when asked about his surge.
“It’s one of those things where you get away from who you are and your mechanics change a little bit and your approach changes and you try to do too much. It’s just one of those things you have to go through at times. That is why you play 162 games.”
Of McCann’s nine hits in his 19 at-bats before Thursday, seven were either straightaway or to the opposite field. He had pulled the ball for hits twice during that stretch, including one for a three-run homer against Madison Bumgarner in the first inning Wednesday in Arizona.
McCann’s breakout performance — perhaps the game that will ultimately be remembered as his initiation into the club — came Saturday, when he went 4-for-5 with a homer against the Braves. His double in the 10th inning Tuesday in Arizona would have been the game-winner if the bullpen had held. But Trevor May surrendered two runs in the bottom of the inning in the walk-off loss.
McCann’s rise has occurred as Francisco Lindor and Dominic Smith have emerged from recent doldrums, and Alonso has returned from the IL wielding his powerful bat. The Mets are hoping their days of trying to survive on three runs are behind them. In each of the last four games entering Thursday they had scored at least five runs.
“The offense has changed,” Rojas said. “We were talking about how poor our offense has been for a while and how good our pitching has been, how good our defense has been. It’s good to see double-digit hits up on the board, it’s good to see some of these swings the guys are taking, some of the at-bats that the guys are taking as well.
“There’s just a lot of good sequence of guys that are swinging well right now and that’s what is leading up to the runs that we’re scoring.”
McCann, who arrived on a four-year contract worth $40.6 million, has also stayed healthy, a fact that can’t be underscored enough on a team that continues to place players on the IL. But somehow the Mets have managed to keep a stronghold on first place in the NL East.
“It’s a special team, a really special team,” McCann said. “You look up and down our lineup and anybody can get you at any time and then you combine that with the way our pitchers are throwing the ball, it makes for a very special team.”