Tejada quietly proving depth of Mets

Tejada quietly proving depth of Mets

NEW YORK -- The Mets' lineup on Saturday was without a hot-hitting middle infielder. Jose Reyes was still in his customary spot at the top of the order, but Ruben Tejada received the day off.

A day off for Tejada wouldn't seem to open up any kind of significant void at second base, but that would ignore the rookie's surprising production at the plate of late. Always known for his slick fielding skills, Tejada is in the midst of a nine-game hitting streak during which he's batting .345.

"The evaluation always comes with the bat for him," manager Jerry Manuel said. "For a young hitter, he has a good swing. It's good to see him doing what he's doing at the plate."

Tejada is batting .264 in 17 games this season for the Mets, not far below the .274 average he has posted in three-plus Minor League seasons. The 20-year-old has turned into a sparkplug at the bottom of the Mets' order, with nine runs scored in his last nine games. He illustrated that on Friday, when he led off the fifth with a long double to off the wall in left-center field, moved to third on a bunt by Mike Pelfrey and scored on a shallow fly ball to left from Reyes.

Though Tejada came up to the Majors with a solid reputation as a fielder, Manuel didn't expect him to make the transition from short to second so seamlessly.

"We always felt that he was a good defensive player," manager Jerry Manuel said. "I have been surprised and impressed by his ability to adapt to second base as well as turn the double play with the runner coming in on him."

Tejada's emergence has helped the Mets stay hot without Luis Castillo in the lineup. Tejada, in fact, has a higher average than Castillo this season, and has four fewer runs scored despite playing in 27 fewer games. He has four extra-base hits to Castillo's three.

The Mets are 15-4 in the 19 games Castillo has missed. Tejada's play is representative of an organizational depth that was absent a season ago, when a spate of injuries left the Mets with few options, especially in the middle infield.

"We left Spring Training anticipating that if something were to go wrong like it did last year, that we had enough depth and the system was ready to produce Major League players," Manuel said. "Some things have happened and those guys have come up and played extremely well."