NEW YORK -- A few hours after the most significant game of his life, Kirk Nieuwenhuis did not stray far from the Queens hotel where he is staying. Nieuwenhuis enjoyed a quiet postgame meal near Citi Field with his parents, in town from California, then left to prepare for the second game of his Major League career.
"We were all kind of tired," Nieuwenhuis said Sunday morning. "I was worn out."
Summoned from Triple-A to replace injured center fielder Andres Torres, Nieuwenhuis recorded an infield hit in his second at-bat Saturday, giving the ball to his father for safekeeping back home. He then rapped out another hit in his final plate appearance, giving manager Terry Collins pause. If Nieuwenhuis continues to reach base, Collins said, he could start leading off games for the Mets with Torres on the DL.
Playing without their preferred leadoff man for at least two weeks, the Mets have been topping their lineup with Ruben Tejada, who batted eighth on Opening Day. But Collins is wary of slotting Tejada first on a consistent basis, wanting to protect his 22-year-old shortstop from the pressures of the position. Collins has also ditched the idea of using Daniel Murphy leadoff, fearful of Murphy harnessing his natural aggression by taking too many pitches.
That leaves Nieuwenhuis, who, like Tejada and Murphy, lacks a prototypical leadoff hitter's sheer speed. But Nieuwenhuis posted a .403 on-base percentage in 53 games for Triple-A Buffalo last season, drawing a walk once every 6.9 plate appearances and generally impressing the Mets with his approach. Though Collins will not bat Nieuwenhuis first right away for the Mets, he may not hesitate to do so if Nieuwenhuis adapts quickly to Major League pitching.
"He can be patient," Collins said. "We're going to monitor this as we go, and if he starts swinging the bat, I might have to get Kirk up there earlier."