Nieuwenhuis excels in first game leading off

Nieuwenhuis excels in first game leading off

Nieuwenhuis excels in first game leading off
ATLANTA -- Kirk Nieuwenhuis does not look like a prototypical leadoff hitter, nor has he historically been one. Nieuwenhuis has not batted first with any regularity since he played for Double-A Binghamton in the first half of 2010.

But it was Nieuwenhuis' name that sat atop Mets manager Terry Collins' lineup card on Wednesday afternoon. Needing a replacement for Ruben Tejada, who has been subbing at leadoff himself for the injured Andres Torres, Collins deferred to a player whose .403 on-base percentage at Triple-A last season would have ranked second in the International League with enough at-bats to qualify.

The results were striking. Nieuwenhuis finished 3-for-4 with a walk, an RBI, two doubles and three runs scored, making his only out on a sharp line drive to center.

"It's still hitting," Nieuwenhuis said of batting leadoff. "It's not really too big of an adjustment for me, I guess. You're just trying to get on base for the big boys -- that's what it's all about."

"He's getting better," Collins said. "The one thing about Kirk is he's one of those guys when he gets hot, you can't get him out. I don't care if you throw right, left, between your legs, it doesn't matter. He can hit you."

Nieuwenhuis is reasonably hot now, given his six-game hitting streak and his .444 on-base percentage. But those numbers were not Collins' primary motivations for batting Nieuwenhuis first; the manager mostly wanted to break up a clump of left-handed batters -- Lucas Duda, Josh Thole et al -- at the bottom of his lineup.

So with Tejada taking his first routine day of rest of the season, the leadoff assignment fell to Nieuwenhuis over shortstop substitute Ronny Cedeno. Though Nieuwenhuis is not a traditional speedster, he does fit the profile of a more modern leadoff man -- taking pitches, working counts, getting on base.

Batting leadoff, Nieuwenhuis aims to emphasize those attributes. He watched 11 pitches whiz by in his first two plate appearances Wednesday, finishing with 19 in five trips to the plate.

"You definitely want to see more pitches, especially in the first inning," he said. "You're just trying to get on base for the big boys."

Collins' only fear is that batting leadoff will cause Nieuwenhuis to attempt more than he is capable, spoiling what has been a strong start to the center fielder's big league career. But Collins pointed to the rookie's stoic demeanor in figuring that no batting order assignment will affect him.

After Wednesday's game, Collins said he would consider using Nieuwenhuis at leadoff in the future, even with Tejada in the lineup.

"I don't want him to think he's got added pressure or anything," Collins said. "I just want him to approach it the same way he's been doing it, because he's been really good offensively."