Mets notes: Coaches work on Jeff McNeil's swing, plus pitching plans

NEW YORK — When New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil is at his best at the plate, he maneuvers his body in odd positions, makes solid contact and manipulates the direction of the ball so that it travels all over the field. And that’s the tricky thing for the Mets about fixing him. What made him great has gotten too out of whack.

In what’s become a rarity over the last couple of weeks, McNeil started Wednesday against a left-handed pitcher. For the first time in his career, McNeil, who won the National League batting title two years ago, batted ninth. After he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in the Mets’ 10-4 win over the Miami Marlins, his batting average dipped to .226.

Mets co-hitting coach Jeremy Barnes said the club is trying to simplify McNeil’s approach. When swinging, McNeil, who bats from the left side, too often has drifted toward first base. Barnes and the Mets want him to stay back in the batter’s box, not move forward so much and be more cognizant of rotating. Instead of his chopping down on the ball or swinging up, the Mets want to see a cleaner path from his swing, which should lead to more line drives as in the past.

“He has a tendency to want to go forward and slide and do different things like that; he has a lot of movement in his swing,” Barnes said. “His bat-to-ball skills are so elite, so it’s a fine line. There’s no exact one way to do it with hitting. But with that said, let’s just focus on being simple right now, and then we can build off that once we get back to baseline.”

The main things to monitor with McNeil continue to be his line-drive and popup rates, Barnes added. According to FanGraphs, though, McNeil’s 20 percent line-drive rate isn’t far off from his career average (21.7 percent). A lot of them haven’t fallen for hits.

“It’s just doubling down on that,” Barnes said. “We can’t give him a magic pill that makes those line drives fall. We can just continue to put line drives out there. And that’s the biggest thing.”

People within the Mets say McNeil, who often shows his frustrations on the field, has responded well to losing playing time to Jose Iglesias and has put in work offensively and defensively before games. It has not yet led to results. In the Mets’ win Wednesday, McNeil was the only player in the starting lineup who failed to record a hit.

It behooves the Mets to get McNeil right whether they view him as a piece of their future or not. At a $12.5 million annual average value, McNeil is under contract through 2026 and the Mets have a club option for 2027. If the Mets were to shop him now, they’d likely receive just lowball offers. They’d get little return on someone who isn’t far removed from being a key contributor with some positional versatility. However, getting him back to that level also clearly is requiring time without much production.

Return of Edwin Díaz makes for interesting calls

When the Mets reinstate Edwin Díaz from the injured list Thursday, he will reclaim his role as closer, Mets manager Carlos Mendoza said.

Despite Díaz’s struggles, the move makes sense. Put simply, the Mets look unable to mount the kind of run that pushes them firmly in the playoff picture without Díaz’s solidifying the back end of their bullpen as a dependable closer. They’ve tried others, and it just hasn’t worked consistently.

“We’ve been trying to piece it together for the past month or so, but he feels good, physically, mentally,” Mendoza said.

In explaining the decision further, Mendoza pointed to a sharper slider in minor-league rehab games and more confidence from Díaz.

“Just having conversations with him, the conviction, you can see it in his face, he’s not the same guy when he was struggling,” Mendoza said. “You could tell he was feeling it a little bit, but the past couple of days and watching him pitch, even though he was facing minor-league hitters, you could tell he’s in a good spot and ready to go.”

Really, though, the Mets don’t have a better choice than Díaz as closer.

The corresponding move when Díaz returns will be to option lefty Danny Young, a league source said.

Strictly from a roster management point of view, Young and right-hander Dedniel Núñez were candidates to lose a spot on the active roster because they can be optioned to the minor leagues (so can Reed Garrett, but he’s consistently been used as one of the club’s high-leverage relievers). Optioning Young preserves depth. But they both have pitched well.

Young threw a scoreless inning Tuesday. In nine innings this season, he has allowed just one earned run with 12 strikeouts. Núñez threw 2 1/3 perfect innings with five strikeouts Wednesday. Afterward, starter Sean Manaea, with a smile, playfully bowed down to him in the dugout. In a bullpen that’s been shaky, Young and Núñez have impressed. While preserving depth appears to remain the priority for the club at this point in the season, Mendoza acknowledged the call is a difficult one.

Without Young, there will be more stress put on Jake Diekman (the lone lefty in the bullpen), Sean Reid-Foley and Garrett to get lefties out.

Rotation plans

The Mets plan to stay in order with their starting rotation over the final seven games of their stretch of nine straight — as of Tuesday afternoon, they didn’t anticipate inserting a sixth starter. The Mets finish their series against the Marlins on Thursday then host the San Diego Padres for three games before visiting the Texas Rangers for three more.

From there, the schedule gets weird. They have days off June 20, June 24 and June 27. Given the funky schedule, the Mets could opt to go with a four-man rotation.

Latest on Kodai Senga

After needing to restart his throwing program, Kodai Senga (shoulder) threw his second bullpen Wednesday, and he said it went well. He will have two more, per Mendoza.

Senga, out since February, said he expects to pitch this season. The next step is facing batters again before a rehab assignment.

“He was smiling after he was done throwing,” Mendoza said. “That’s a good sign.”

(Photo: Christopher Pasatieri / Getty Images)

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