Tejada emerges from shadow left by Reyes
Shortstop earns praise from skipper Collins for quick adjustments
SAN DIEGO -- Ruben Tejada will never be quite like Jose Reyes, the man he replaced at shortstop for the Mets. But he can certainly train like Reyes, his former mentor.
Rather than spend his entire offseason in his native Panama, as he did a year ago, Tejada plans to train this winter at the Long Island Sports Complex, where Reyes performed many of his own offseason workouts during his final years with the Mets. Then he will make a brief trip to Panama to see family and friends before reporting early to Spring Training in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Consider it the latest adjustment for a player who only needs to learn most lessons once.
"That's just the way he is," manager Terry Collins said of Tejada, who received criticism for not reporting early to Florida last February. "He's just that kind of a guy. He makes adjustments. He makes them fast."
Perhaps no player will play under greater scrutiny this week than Tejada, given his juxtaposition on the diamond to Reyes. When the Mets meet the Marlins for the first of three games at Citi Field on Tuesday, Reyes will carry a career-long 24-game hitting streak into the series. But Tejada will meet him with his own career-long 11-game streak.
It is just the latest run of offensive success for Tejada, who is batting .380 during his streak and .335 since returning from the disabled list in late June. Though Tejada will never match the power or speed potential of Reyes, a more natural five-tool talent, the Mets have made it clear that they neither expect nor want him to. Defensive-minded shortstops who bat over .300 are valuable commodities, regardless of their speed or power.
When Tejada struggles, Collins believes, is when he tries to emulate Reyes by running haphazardly on the basepaths or swinging for the fences -- things that are becoming rarer and rarer.
"What I've seen this year was what I heard when I first got to this organization, that his maturity is way beyond his years," said Collins, who spent a year as the Mets' Minor League field coordinator before becoming manager last season. "We're seeing that now more than I did last year, because he's in the lineup every day. You see the fast adjustments that he makes on a daily basis."
Often, they are simple fixes, the types of mechanical tweaks that have helped Tejada bat .321 -- he now trails David Wright by two-thousandths of the point for the team lead -- with 37 runs scored in 64 games. When Tejada hit his first home run of the season, on Wednesday in San Francisco, Collins worried that his swing might grow long, as it did under similar circumstances in the Minors. But Tejada did not change a thing.
Other times, they are more complicated fixes. Last offseason, for example, Tejada packed on nearly 10 pounds in an effort to turn more of his singles into extra-base hits. It has worked, as he has already produced more doubles -- 16 -- than he did all of last season.
The next goal for Tejada is to increase his foot speed and refine his baserunning instincts in order to become a more consistent double-digit-steals threat. Not blessed with Reyes' dynamic speed or acceleration, Tejada will report to Spring Training early next year in an effort to gain the small types of advantages he needs to be such a threat at any time.
"Not that we're going to make this guy real fast, but that extra 12 to 15 inches that he can start off with, first-step quickness, I think will help him steal some bases," Collins said.
"I have to work on that," admitted Tejada. "It's part of my game, so I have to work on that."
Unmentioned, of course, is the fact that Tejada has been making all these adjustments while playing sound defense throughout this season, showcasing the one attribute the Mets knew he possessed all along.
"We knew defensively that he was going to be fine," Collins said. "We certainly didn't expect what he's done offensively. Playing every day, getting on base and leading off -- I certainly had no expectations at the beginning of the season that he'd be a leadoff hitter for us. And he's done a tremendous job."
Tejada remains friendly with Reyes, who keeps a house on Long Island and could spend at least part of his offseason training there as well. The most important lesson Reyes taught his replacement, Tejada said, is that "every day is a new day." Mistakes in the past are just that -- past tense. Adjustments are what matter.
And adjustments are Tejada's forte.
So perhaps it is little surprise that Reyes, too, has adjusted to his new role in Miami, batting third for the floundering Marlins and performing quite well. After opening the season with a .205 average in his first 20 games, with no home runs and four stolen bases in seven attempts, he has since hit .306 with seven homers and 23 steals in 26 chances. He is batting .371 over his career-long hitting streak.
And he has done it despite injuries to Giancarlo Stanton and Emilio Bonifacio, as well as the trades of Hanley Ramirez and Gaby Sanchez -- four of his most critical sources of protection in Miami's lineup.
"That's his team now," Collins said. "He's the one who's driving it."
Shortstops tend to do that.