ATLANTA -- Kirk Nieuwenhuis does not look like a prototypical leadoff hitter, nor has he historically been one. Nieuwenhuis has not batted first with any regularity since he played for Double-A Binghamton in the first half of 2010.
But it was Nieuwenhuis' name that sat atop Mets manager Terry Collins' lineup card on Wednesday afternoon. Needing a replacement for Ruben Tejada, who has been subbing at leadoff himself for the injured Andres Torres, Collins deferred to a player whose .403 on-base percentage at Triple-A last season would have ranked second in the International League with enough at-bats to qualify.
The results were striking. Nieuwenhuis finished 3-for-4 with a walk, an RBI, two doubles and three runs scored, making his only out on a sharp line drive to center.
"It's still hitting," Nieuwenhuis said of batting leadoff. "It's not really too big of an adjustment for me, I guess. You're just trying to get on base for the big boys -- that's what it's all about."
"He's getting better," Collins said. "The one thing about Kirk is he's one of those guys when he gets hot, you can't get him out. I don't care if you throw right, left, between your legs, it doesn't matter. He can hit you."
Nieuwenhuis is reasonably hot now, given his six-game hitting streak and his .444 on-base percentage. But those numbers were not Collins' primary motivations for batting Nieuwenhuis first; the manager mostly wanted to break up a clump of left-handed batters -- Lucas Duda, Josh Thole et al -- at the bottom of his lineup.
So with Tejada taking his first routine day of rest of the season, the leadoff assignment fell to Nieuwenhuis over shortstop substitute Ronny Cedeno. Though Nieuwenhuis is not a traditional speedster, he does fit the profile of a more modern leadoff man -- taking pitches, working counts, getting on base.
Batting leadoff, Nieuwenhuis aims to emphasize those attributes. He watched 11 pitches whiz by in his first two plate appearances Wednesday, finishing with 19 in five trips to the plate.
"You definitely want to see more pitches, especially in the first inning," he said. "You're just trying to get on base for the big boys."
Collins' only fear is that batting leadoff will cause Nieuwenhuis to attempt more than he is capable, spoiling what has been a strong start to the center fielder's big league career. But Collins pointed to the rookie's stoic demeanor in figuring that no batting order assignment will affect him.
After Wednesday's game, Collins said he would consider using Nieuwenhuis at leadoff in the future, even with Tejada in the lineup.
"I don't want him to think he's got added pressure or anything," Collins said. "I just want him to approach it the same way he's been doing it, because he's been really good offensively."
Wright ties Strawberry for Mets' RBI record
ATLANTA -- David Wright recalls taking a bat and glove, heading out to his backyard in Virginia, exaggerating the leg kick on his swing and "just trying to be Darryl Strawberry for a day." As a Mets fan throughout his youth, Wright attempted to model his mechanics after his favorite team's all-time RBI leader.
Though his swing turned out differently, the results have been similar. In driving in three runs Wednesday against the Braves, Wright tied Strawberry for the most RBIs in team history with 733.
"It was an ugly day," Wright said of the 14-6 loss to the Braves. "We didn't do much right. But obviously if you're classified with a guy like Straw, a guy that I grew up idolizing and trying to mimic his swing, it's an honor to be in that group."
Batting against Jair Jurrjens in the fifth inning, Wright delivered an infield single past the second-base bag, plating Kirk Nieuwenhuis. It was his 733rd career RBI, coming in his 4,193rd at-bat with the Mets. For comparison's sake, Strawberry needed 3,903 at-bats to record his 733rd RBI with the team.
Wright, who began the game with 730 RBIs, also doubled home two runs in the third inning. He already holds the franchise record for most career doubles (282), and is on track to pass Strawberry for most walks (580) and strikeouts (960) in club history. Before the season is finished, he could also catch Ed Kranepool in hits (1,418) and Jose Reyes in runs scored (704).
Wright ranks in the top 10 in franchise history in nearly every major offensive category, including batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. He has a $16 million team option on his contract for next season, after which he can become a free agent for the first time in his career. Whether he re-signs will play a significant role in how many records he is able to hold or extend.
"I've never gotten caught up too much in the numbers," Wright said. "I think that's something to enjoy when it's all said and done, look back and kind of beat your chest a little bit when it's all said and done. But it's so tough to do that right now, because we're a couple weeks into the season and we haven't played too well the last couple days. So it's tough to sit back and really enjoy something like that."
Day after forgettable start, Johan's arm fine
ATLANTA -- The Mets arrived to the ballpark Wednesday no more distressed by the shortest outing of Johan Santana's career than they had been the night before. Santana's left shoulder was fine, and he plans to take the ball for his next start, as usual.
In trying to diagnose just what went wrong, manager Terry Collins said that Santana's pregame bullpen session Tuesday actually might have been his best of the season.
"It just didn't carry out on the mound," Collins said, referring to the six runs Santana allowed over 1 1/3 innings. "I'm sure Johan will be fine when he goes out there in five more days, but then after that, we need to take a look at him."
The Mets will monitor Santana closely in the days following his next outing, if only because it will be the first time he will be preparing for a start on regular rest. Santana had the luxury of a complete day off on Wednesday, as he has the day after each of his first three starts. But that will no longer be the case after his fourth outing of the season, when Santana will have only four days to prepare for his fifth.
"Physically, I feel much better," Santana said after Tuesday's start. "I think my shoulder feels much better, and we'll see how it goes. The next couple weeks are going to be important."