PORT ST. LUCIE – As much as the Mets want Dominic Smith to prepare for left-field duty this season, ensuring he’s physically ready for the grind of a season comes first.
For now that means giving Smith at-bats as the DH or first baseman in the Grapefruit League until a determination is reached he’s ready for additional work.
“It’s a marathon and the team is doing a great job of making sure that I am ready,” said Smith, who started as the DH on Thursday when the Mets faced the Astros in an exhibition game in West Palm Beach.
The expectation is that by next week Smith will begin playing left field. Unless the universal DH is implemented before Opening Day, the Mets are counting on Smith to take most of his at-bats this season as the left fielder, with Pete Alonso at first base. If the DH returns, the Mets would have the option of shifting Alonso to that spot with Smith at first base.
Smith has played the outfield on a limited basis in each of the last three seasons and appeared overmatched at times. Over the winter team president Sandy Alderson indicated that Smith wasn’t viewed as an outfielder, but that assessment changed after MLB and the MLBPA failed to reach agreement on implementing the universal DH.
The Mets know this much: they want Smith’s bat in the lineup as much as possible after his breakout 2020 season in which he slashed .316/.377/.616 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs in 50 games.
Smith sustained a stress fracture in his left foot that cost him almost half of the 2019 season and he wants to ensure there’s no recurrence.
“Some of those things can kind of be avoidable if we monitor my load and make sure that I am not overworking, because I like to work,” Smith said. “I work hard and if it’s up to me I will be out on the field all day long, so they kind of have to monitor myself and kind of hold me back so I am not overworking and fatiguing and hurting myself in the long run.”
Smith was late in beginning workouts for the team for an undisclosed reason, and early in camp wore a vest that monitored his breathing and heart rate to ensure he wasn’t pushing too hard. He says he is completely healthy.
“I came into camp a couple of days late so I have some catch up to do,” he said. “I have to make sure my legs are under me and make sure I don’t run into any speed bumps along the way. I will be out there a ton and I’ll have fun when I do get out there.
“I’m running around fine, I am doing everything, I’m in all the drills. I’m running, you can see me on the back fields and I do everything perfectly fine. This is just precaution to make sure I don’t run myself into the ground, because if it were up to me I would be playing every day from the day I got here and playing all nine innings.”
Prepping Smith for left field will fall on new outfield coach Tony Tarasco, who has taken an upbeat approach with the players to instill them with enthusiasm about drills that can fall on the mundane side.
“He makes you work out there when you do drills and they are really thoughtful and get you thinking and get you really just better prepared,” Smith said. “The way he has us play out certain situations in our head before we go out there is huge. Some of the drills that he has us work on and do, I think it’s going to be very beneficial for my development out there and I am excited to get in a game and see what I can do.”