NEW YORK -- A day after injuring his left hand during batting practice, outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis managed to avoid the disabled list. But that did not stop the Mets from bringing in some bench insurance, recalling Jordany Valdespin from Triple-A Buffalo and designating left-handed reliever Justin Hampson for assignment.
The Mets will play with a short-handed bullpen likely until the All-Star break -- a luxury they can afford thanks to their starting pitchers, who have lasted at least six innings in 16 of their last 17 games. The tradeoff is that they will have an extra bench player in Valdespin, who boasts experience at second base, shortstop, left and center field.
After bouncing between the Majors and Minors for much of the early season, Valdespin caught fire recently at Buffalo, batting .333 with two home runs and four stolen bases over his last 10 games.
He will give the Mets another left-handed bat with Nieuwenhuis' status still in doubt. The rookie outfielder injured his hand and sustained possible nerve damage taking a dry swing behind the batting cage Tuesday, and was awaiting the results of an MRI on Wednesday morning. But Nieuwenhuis, who underwent surgery to repair a broken hamate bone several years ago, said he woke up Wednesday feeling "quite a bit better."
"There was just some pain in there," Nieuwenhuis said. "I couldn't take my normal swings."
Until Nieuwenhuis is ready to play, the Mets will proceed with a mix -- though not necessarily a straight platoon -- of Scott Hairston and Valdespin in left field.
Mets pitchers showing prowess at the plate
NEW YORK -- The Mets entered Wednesday's play boasting a notable accomplishment: their starting pitchers were riding a four-game hitting streak, going 4-for-8 with two walks, two RBIs and two successful sacrifice bunts over that stretch. Over their past 15 games, Mets starting pitchers had gone a rather remarkable 11-for-31 (.355) with six walks and five RBIs.
"Other than the fact that we practice it a lot, I don't know what's going on," said right-hander Dillon Gee, who is leading the charge with two hits and two walks in his last four plate appearances. "Everybody on this staff though takes pride in it."
Though the pitchers do not work regularly with hitting coach Dave Hudgens, most of them take batting practice four or five times per week. Partially as a result of that, the Mets now rank third in baseball with a .161 pitchers' batting average, trailing only the Nationals and Reds.
"I feel like we're raking," Gee said.
"You're absolutely raking," chimed in reliever Jeremy Hefner from the next locker down.
For some of them, it is a friendly competition -- Jon Niese, for example, has a running bet with third baseman David Wright that he will hit over .200 for the season. (Niese currently leads Mets pitchers with a .217 average.) For others, it is simply a point of pride.
"When I go take BP, I usually take it with a purpose," Gee said. "But a lot of it, too, is we get pitched a lot differently. As long as you're up there swinging, most of the time you're going to get three or four fastballs in an at-bat. We don't have to worry about too many breaking balls."
"You've got the top of the lineup coming up, so it makes a big difference when that pitcher ... gets a hit," manager Terry Collins said. "When he's on base and the top of the lineup's coming up, you can create a lot of runs. In the American League, that ninth hitter is a guy that can swing the bat pretty good. When our pitchers are swinging the bat, it's a different lineup."
Most around the clubhouse consider R.A. Dickey the staff's best hitter, due to his athleticism and ability to make contact. And indeed, Dickey has just three strikeouts in 40 plate appearances this season -- but the knuckleballer also has not recorded an extra-base hit since 2010.
"He's a good hitter, but he won't hit with any slugging like me," quipped Gee, who has two extra-base hits on the season. "I hit doubles."
Hefner optioned to Triple-A Buffalo
NEW YORK -- Less than hour after Wednesday's 9-2 loss to the Phillies, the Mets announced that the team had optioned relief pitcher Jeremy Hefner to Triple-A Buffalo. Right-hander Pedro Beato will replace him on the team's roster and will be available on Thursday for the team's series finale against Philadelphia.
Hefner allowed three earned runs on five hits in 1 1/3 innings on Wednesday -- including a ninth inning home run to Ty Wigginton.
Before Wednesday's outing, the right-hander had made four consecutive scoreless appearances, surrendering only one hit over 4 1/3 innings. Hefner's ERA had dipped below 5.00 -- he struggled immensely early in the season -- but stood at 5.64 following his performance against the Phillies.
Players, fans enjoy fireworks show at Citi Field
NEW YORK -- Following Tuesday's victory at Citi Field, Mets PR director Jay Horwitz hurried media members through their postgame interviews, believing that his players would want to leave the park early to avoid traffic on fireworks night.
Not quite. Clutching to-go containers of food from their postgame spread, David Wright, Ike Davis, Justin Turner and others went back out to the dugout to watch the fireworks show, staying at the ballpark long after most fans filtered out. The show was one of two consecutive fireworks displays at Citi Field, with the second scheduled for July 4.
Pyrotechnics, though, were only part of the celebration. A day after setting a Citi Field record by drawing 42,516 fans to their first fireworks night, the Mets invited Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler to sing the national anthem in a duet with Kory Leigh Glattman, the winner of Macy's 4th of July Star Spangled Sing-Off competition. Kaeppeler and Glattman also recorded a special rendition of the national anthem, which the Mets planned to play during the finale of their fireworks spectacular.
• Outfielder Mike Baxter, who has been on the disabled list with a displaced right collarbone since preserving Johan Santana's no-hitter with a leaping catch on June 1, was scheduled to fly to Florida on Wednesday to ramp up his rehab. Baxter is almost five weeks into what doctors originally tabbed a six-week recovery.