By Peter J. Barrett
Stopgap shortstop Omar Quintanilla went 3-4 with two doubles in the Mets 6-3 win Tuesday night. Quintanilla is the starting short stop because starter Ruben Tejada, and major league back-ups Justin Turner and Ronny Cedeno have been placed on the disabled list.
Quintanilla is just the latest example of a player the Mets did not expect to contribute to their 2012 campaign that has been a difference maker.
Jordany Valdespin popped a game winning home run off Jonathan Papelbon, Jeremy Hefner proved he may be the best option when the rotation is down a man, and Rob Johnson has provided the necessary offense of third catcher and pitched a one-two-three inning in Toronto.
Those fill-in Mets stepped up to seize their opportunity, and had their moments, but will return to the minor leagues, when Tejada, Chris Young and Josh Thole are healthy. However, rookie OFs Mike Baxter and Kirk Nieuwenhuis have made more lasting impressions.
Baxter broke camp with the team as the last bat on the bench, but quickly became Manager Terry Collins’ go-to pinch hitter, leading MLB with 6 pinch hits in the month of April.
On April 24, starting LF Jason Bay fractured a rib, and was put on the disabled list. Baxter has seen a spike in his playing time, starting nine games since Bays injury.
The Queens kid leads Mets outfielders with a .408 OBP, and has more doubles (11) than the Mets original outfield plan of Lucas Duda, Andres Torres and Bay combined.
Nieuwenhuis took over center field on day two of 2012. Torres exited the first game of the season early with a calf strain that plagued him during spring training. He was placed on the DL after the game and Nieuwenhuis was called up.
Since his return from the DL Torres has struggled to keep his batting average above the Mendoza line. Nieuwenhuis has out played Torres, hitting .289 in 49 games all while making spectular defensive plays in center field.
Along with Scott Hairston, who has homered in each of his last three games, Baxter and Nieuwenhuis have formed the Mets most productive outfield.