WASHINGTON -- Considering how often he has played in recent weeks, the proclamation came as no surprise. But for the first time all year, Mets manager Terry Collins flat-out said it: Juan Lagares is his everyday center fielder.
"There's no reason why he shouldn't be out there right now when you do what he did with Jordan Zimmermann on the mound," Collins said after Lagares finished 3-for-4 with a walk, three runs scored, two stolen bases and one RBI in Game 1 of Friday's doubleheader against the Nationals. "He fouled some pitches off, got a decent ball to hit, ran the bases."
Just a few hours earlier, Collins was fretting over how to replace regular leadoff man Eric Young Jr., who remained sidelined with a right knee injury. But Lagares responded with everything the Mets had hoped for out of Young and more, giving them hitting, speed and even power out of the leadoff spot.
"For me," Lagares said, "every time I get the opportunity, I want to try to do my job and try to do the best for the team."
Statistically speaking, Lagares is still a significantly stronger hitter against left-handed pitchers, who tend to appear less frequently on the mound. But Collins said that Lagares' elite center-field defense makes up for any offensive deficiencies against right-handed pitchers.
"Our defense has really been a big difference," Collins said.