In an effort to turn things around, Mets bench Jeff McNeil for second straight game

WASHINGTON — For the second straight night and the third time in five games, New York Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil, the National League’s batting champion two years ago, spent Tuesday on the bench.

In a disappointing season, Mets first-year manager Carlos Mendoza and new president of baseball operations David Stearns have tried a few things in an effort to turn things around for New York (26-35). They’ve changed batting orders, cut from their rotation, reworked bullpen roles and made a series of moves last week designed, in part, to upgrade the floor of their roster and promote competition. Now, they’re addressing second base, a position where they’ve received an fWAR of 0.0, better production at that spot than just three other teams.

Generally speaking, veteran players say they can get in trouble thinking that because they’ve been around a long time, they’re untouchable. That’s not the case. The Mets’ brass has made that clear. And from the perspective of some players in the Mets’ clubhouse, that’s OK. It’s fair.

The feeling from some veteran players is that Mendoza has handled situations well, including McNeil’s benching. Mendoza met with McNeil on Monday (and presumably multiple times before that). Based on how often Mendoza meets with players and tries to communicate, the move probably wasn’t too surprising. McNeil’s results left little choice.

Through 224 plate appearances, McNeil has just a .616 OPS. His batting average stands at .227, a huge fall off from when he led the majors in 2022 with a .326 mark. He’s hitting too many fly balls, too many infield pop ups, not enough line drives. In the Mets’ 10-game homestand, he went 5-for-32 (.156 batting average), with one extra-base hit (a double). McNeil’s troubles stretch back further, dating to last year when he posted a .711 OPS and hit .270. Defensively, McNeil has minus-3 outs above average. It was time to try something different.

“Look, McNeil is still our second baseman,” Mendoza said. “For us to get to where we want to get, we are going to need Jeff McNeil to be the player we all know he is capable of.

“He’s going to be a big part of this team moving forward.”

Before the Mets beat the Washington Nationals 6-3 Tuesday for their second straight win, Mendoza was noncommittal over whether McNeil would start on Wednesday. The Nationals expect to throw their third straight lefty starter, Patrick Corbin. The Nationals scratched right-hander Trevor Williams Tuesday and replaced him with lefty DJ Herz. Mendoza wouldn’t say whether McNeil, a left-handed batter, was initially in Tuesday’s lineup.

The past couple days veteran right-handed batter Jose Iglesias, whom the Mets called up last week, has taken McNeil’s place. Iglesias, 34, is known more for his defense, but he’s off to a quick start. With the Mets, he’s 6-for-15 and he’s brought some positive energy. He has talked about feeling like a rookie all over again after not playing in the majors since 2022. After his first hit with the Mets last week, he kept the ball and said he will place it inside his house where other objects from his other professional career reside.

In the meantime, the Mets hope McNeil figures things out and the time away from the lineup helps him get on track.

But inside the Mets’ clubhouse, the decision to bench McNeil was met with a level of understanding. After all, it was just last week when the club held a players’ only meeting and discussed a stronger appetite for accountability.

All offseason and spring training, Mendoza prioritized building relationships with his players. Tough conversations may have arrived quicker for an underperforming team like the Mets, but they were always inevitable.

“You want to make sure that you earn their respect as well,” Mendoza said, “so when you do have to have these conversations — they’re not easy conversations — they understand where you’re coming from.”

(Photo of McNeil: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

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