NEW YORK -- The call came late Thursday night for Kirk Nieuwenhuis, when Triple-A Buffalo manager Wally Backman summoned the center fielder into his office. Two days after that meeting, and less than a year after injuries began derailing his path to the Majors, Nieuwenhuis made his big league debut at Citi Field.
"It feels great," Nieuwenhuis said. "I try to keep it on an even keel as much as possible, but it's been a little bit of a roller coaster for sure."
Had Nieuwenhuis not torn the labrum in his left shoulder last summer at Buffalo, he might have entered Spring Training as the favorite to become the Mets' starting center fielder. But because that injury prevented Nieuwenhuis from playing a full season at the top level of the Minors, the Mets traded for Andres Torres as a sort of center-field stopgap. Nieuwenhuis was again ticketed for Buffalo.
Yet things change quickly in baseball; Torres strained his left calf on Opening Day against the Braves, forcing the Mets to assign him to the disabled list and call up Nieuwenhuis.
His stay may be temporary, but Nieuwenhuis will receive plenty of playing time while he is here. Manager Terry Collins said the rookie will mostly platoon in center field with Scott Hairston, who will start Sunday against Braves left-hander Mike Minor.
"There's going to be plenty of at-bats for both guys," Collins said.
With Nieuwenhuis in center field on Saturday, the Mets started seven homegrown players against the Braves. The only exceptions were left fielder Jason Bay and pitcher R.A. Dickey, both of whom came to Flushing on free-agent deals.
Though the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Nieuwenhuis is not a prototypical center fielder, many scouts consider him a player greater than the sum of his parts. Nieuwenhuis does not boast elite speed, defensive ability or offensive prowess, but he has demonstrated competence in all of those areas.
"He's gotten better each and every year," said Collins, who first coached Nieuwenhuis as the organization's Minor League field coordinator in 2010. "He plays so hard. That's one of the things -- the intangibles he brings to us are that great energy and the way he plays the game."