Jason Bay says Nieuwenhuis belongs in big leagues

Jason Bay has been cleared to return to baseball activities, Terry Collins told reporters before yesterday’s game.

Earlier this week, Bay told reporters at Citi Field that he expects to return as an every-day player. However, he added, “Kirk Nieuwenhuis has showed he belongs in the lineup someplace, so it will be interesting when it happens.”

SNY’s Kevin Burkhardt later reported that, though Bay is not in any pain, he is not close to returning, which will not happen until he completes a minor-league rehab assignment.

Collins later indicated Bay will immediately get his back starting job in left field, when Bay eventually returns from the disabled list. “He didn’t come here to be an extra player,” Collins said.

In the week before he injured his rib cage and was put on the disabled list, Bay hit .290 with three HR in 34 plate appearances.

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Matthew Cerrone: First off, Terry has to say this today. He has to. Bay is probably at least two weeks away from returning, at best, and a lot could happen in that time, from an injury to another outfielder to Kirk Nieuwenhuis going hitless. And if Terry craps on Bay now, then what? So, it’s strategically and politically smart for him to sound loyal to Bay, if for no other reason than you don’t want Nieuwenhuis feeling entitled. He’s young, with a LONG way to go in his career, so keep him singing for his supper.

By the way, an alternative temporary move could be sending Ike Davis to Triple-A and moving Duda to first base, Nieuwenhuis to right and Bay in left… but, that’s for another day…

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Brian Erni: I think this situation could be the hardest Terry has been faced with in his two years with the team. Even though he’s under-performed the last two seasons, I think Bay’s bat needs to be in the lineup. Before his injury, it seemed like Bay might have been putting it together. He had hit in nine of the past 10 games, where he batted .290 with two homers and 4 RBI over that span. Plus the lineup is so left handed-heavy, it could use Bay’s right handed bat. That said, Nieuwenhuis has distinguished himself and proven that he belong to be an every day player on the Major League level. He’s contributing with the bat, and his defense is too valuable to sit idle on the bench. It’s going to be tough to mix and match, and frankly, I’m not sure what the right thing to do is. Terry definitely has his work cut out for him.

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Frank Catalanatto: I’ve seen this situation many times during my career. Even though Nieuwenhuis has been playing well, I think he will have to step aside for the veteran. These situations aren’t always fair, but the Mets are paying Bay a lot of money, and they need to give him another chance to see if he can figure it out. I’m sure the fans are not going to be happy seeing Kirk lose playing time, but sometimes there are factors in who gets playing time. I still think Nieuwenhuis will get a good number of at bats, and who knows? Maybe Bay will start playing with a bit of urgency with the pressure Kirk is putting on him.

As far as any potential implications on the clubhouse, I don’t think it will be affected in any way. Jason is so well liked that he’s such an easy guy to root for. That said, it can very difficult for a manager to please everyone in a situation like this. Usually it’s the young guy that has to bide his time, but if Nieuwenhuis handles this situation well, he will earn a ton of respect from his teammates. And if Bay doesn’t produce, we may see a platoon situation before the All Star break.

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Frank Catalanotto is a special contributor to MetsBlog.com. He played 14 seasons in the big leagues and will be offering insight from a player’s perspective.

To learn more about his new book, Heart & Hustle, click here.