CHICAGO — As tempting as it might be for Terry Collins to place Bobby Abreu in the leadoff spot in the absence of Juan Lagares and Eric Young Jr., the Mets manager just can’t do it at the moment. The 40-year-old has become too valuable lower in the order.
“Because he drives in runs for us,” Collins said.
After not playing in the majors last season, Abreu has been a key performer for the Mets this season, and has played his way into more frequent starting time in recent weeks. The veteran was riding a hot streak entering Tuesday’s game against the Cubs.
“I’m happy to make a comeback. I know what I can do, I’m not trying to do too much,” said Abreu, who did not start the series opener. “I think what I’m doing right now is something I’ve always been doing my entire career.”
Abreu finished the 2012 season with the Dodgers, but after not landing a deal in the off-season, he instead played winter ball in his native Venezuela.
This year, he failed to make the Phillies roster out of spring training, but latched on with the Mets shortly after and started the season with Class AAA Las Vegas.
The Mets elevated him to the major league roster April 21, and Abreu was penciled in to be a left-handed hitter off the bench who made occasional starts. Until recently, the Mets mostly used him in that pinch-hitting role, and he had been a solid contributor.
Abreu said he wasn’t concerned about whether he could still be an effective player.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to be what I was before, like an everyday player,” Abreu said. “I knew it was going to be a different kind of role, which is not a problem. It’s fine.”
As Chris Young started slumping, Abreu found his way into the starting lineup more often, and it has galvanized him. Entering Tuesday, Abreu had started six of the previous nine games, raising his batting average from .233 to .315 in that stretch.
Abreu also was tied for the team-best batting average in the last 10 games, and helped stabilize the middle of the lineup. He’s been hitting so well that Collins said last week he wanted Abreu in the lineup when Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero started against the Phillies to make sure the rookies had the best offense supporting them.
“He’s the professional hitter. He means a lot when he’s in there,” Collins said. “He has a great approach at the plate. You can’t fool him. Right now he’s swinging the bat good and he gets the hits. And it’s all because we’re getting him in there.”
To make sure Abreu remains an effective cog in the lineup, Collins is ensuring the veteran receives enough days off and doesn’t become fatigued. Collins said Tuesday that Abreu was “running a little low on fuel” after the five-game set against the Phillies.
The manager added he’s a little surprised at how well Abreu has played thus far.
“We sit and talk about guys who’ve missed a year and you see the signs of when they’re finally back after an injury,” Collins said. “Here’s a guy who’s 40 years old and didn’t play last year, got 100 some at-bats in the winter to get him ready for spring training. But yeah, I’m truly amazed at how he’s handled himself. We all know he was always a good hitter and a good player.
“With some rest he’ll be valuable for us.”