When Kevin Pillar was drilled in the face by a 94.5 mph fastball on May 17, his return to the field was far from the top concern.
The next day, even after it was evident the Mets center fielder had dodged a bullet, the best-case scenario still likely had Pillar missing a month from the nasal fractures he sustained.
Saturday, 12 days removed from the scary incident in Atlanta and less than a week removed from surgery, Pillar was back doing more baseball activities at Citi Field and ahead of the timeline that even the Mets had projected for him.
“Don’t be surprised about seeing him in action in probably a week or even less than that,” manager Luis Rojas said Saturday before the Mets beat the Braves 13-2. “He’s just looked better and better each day. You know how this guy is. Every day, he’s like, ‘Put me in.’ He’s asking if he’s in the lineup every day if we need something. He’s had that same attitude toward the ramp-up of activities, even after the surgery. So he’s in a good place right now with that.”
Kevin PillarN.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg
Rojas said Pillar — who is testing out a mask to play with — has been hitting in the cage and facing live pitching from coaches. Saturday he also took fly balls in center field and ran sprints after standing in on a bullpen session to track pitches, which he was hoping could help him avoid needing a rehab assignment.
Francisco Lindor went 2-for-5 with two RBIs and three runs scored, ending the night with a .191 batting average. He said before the game he was feeling better about his process as he worked to get barrels on more pitches, hoping the results would soon follow.
“Hitting is very funny and different because I have tried so bad to imitate myself from 2017 when I started hitting home runs and then imitate myself in 2018,” Lindor said. “And imitating myself, I get it. But it’s really hard to get that feel back. I can’t personally remember what it felt like in 2017. I can try to imitate myself but I’m not quite there.”
Jacob deGrom will start Sunday’s game, weather permitting, as the Mets will keep him on his normal rest. That means pushing David Peterson back to Monday’s game against the Diamondbacks in Arizona.
Nineteen teams will soon reach MLB’s 85 percent vaccinated threshold for relaxing COVID-19 protocols, but the Mets are not one of them. Rojas said he was hopeful they can reach it, but called it “a work in progress.”
To make room for Taijuan Walker coming off the IL, the Mets optioned RHP Yennsy Diaz to Triple-A Syracuse.