Tejada feels no pressure following Reyes
Happy for opportunity, trust to play shortstop, bat leadoff
NEW YORK -- Ruben Tejada is in a familiar spot.
The 22-year-old made his Major League debut with the Mets in 2010 and played in 96 games with the club in 2011, a season during which he was penciled in as the starting shortstop many times while Jose Reyes was injured.
The only difference now is that the substitution is permanent.
That is how Tejada perceives the situation, and though he has big shoes to fill, he insists he feels no added pressure and is not doing anything different in taking over for Reyes, a good friend with whom he keeps in touch.
"It's the same thing," said Tejada at a news conference for Spanish-language media at Citi Field on Tuesday. "I'm happier because I'm getting the opportunity and the trust, which is what I've wanted all these years.
"I'm ready to face the challenge and move forward in this long season."
So far this season, Tejada has been up to the task. He is batting .333, and on Sunday, he collected four hits in a game for the first time in his career, all of which is very encouraging for a player who says he's been focused on improving his hitting.
"My first year, I didn't have a good year offensively," said Tejada. "I've worked a lot on that, and the results are starting to show. I plan to keep working on that and keep improving every day and also keep improving my defense. You never finish learning. You always have to try to improve little things that, in the end, can make a big difference."
Of his 21 at-bats this season, 19 have been as the leadoff hitter, a role Tejada has taken over in the absence of Andres Torres, who suffered an injury on Opening Day. Tejada has fulfilled that responsibility well, as evidenced by his .440 on-base percentage. Nonetheless, the Panamá native says he has no preference when it comes to his spot in the lineup.
"Hitting eighth or leadoff, for me, is the same thing," Tejada said. "You still have to try to get on base, work the count and try to help the team see how the pitcher is throwing. I have the same concentration and the same approach at the plate whether I'm eighth or first. I think that's been the key. I feel the same, I'm just as calm as the leadoff hitter or the eighth."
At the beginning of Spring Training, manager Terry Collins expressed disappointment that Tejada had not reported to camp earlier than required and questioned whether the young infielder grasped the "urgency" of the situation. But judging by his comments now, it appears Tejada has quelled any doubts his manager had about his abilities or work ethic.
"I think he's doing great," said Collins. "Obviously he's playing very well on both ends of the baseball, both sides. He's handling the leadoff spot extremely well. He's looking for good balls to hit, working the count, getting on base -- and defense, in his case, I don't think will ever be an issue. He's a very, very solid defender."
Tejada, who signed with the Mets at the tender age of 16, hit .284 last year. There's no question he would like to improve that number, but he says he has no such specific goals in mind for what he hopes will be his first full season in the big leagues.
"I don't like to think about numbers, but instead work and do things the right way and the numbers will be good," said Tejada. "The most important thing is to stay healthy. I think that's the key to this."
And though Reyes is now part of Mets history, Tejada has not forgotten the encouragement he received from his former teammate.
"I have to be grateful for the support he gave me since I came up," Tejada said. "He gave me a wonderful welcome and always supported me."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.