5/1/2014 10:20 P.M. ET
Collins hopes Lagares' return sparks Mets
By Owen Perkins / Special to MLB.com
DENVER -- Juan Lagares returned from the disabled list on Thursday and went directly to the extensive center field in Colorado, adding a productive bat and a great glove as the Mets opened a four-game set with the Rockies.
"He's been playing every day for the last few days," manager Terry Collins said of the center fielder's rehab work. "Coming into here and going into Florida [next series vs. the Marlins], in those two parks, you want to have absolutely the best center fielder you can put out there. They got to cover a lot of ground."
Kirk Nieuwenhuis was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas after two weeks on the big league roster during Lagares' absence. Nieuwenhuis hit .222 (4-for-18) with a homer and five RBIs in nine games, adding three starts.
Lagares returned from a pulled right hamstring that sent him to the DL. He played in two extended spring training games in Port St. Lucie, going 2-for-7 with both of his hits doubles. He was 2-for-5 in Triple-A Las Vegas.
"I'm going to be careful of his legs," Collins said, noting that he wouldn't be an everyday player immediately. "I don't want to create a bigger problem than what I got. It's just nice to have him back."
Lagares was hitting .314 (16-for-51) with the Mets before his injury, and he could spark a trio of outfielders who are off to sluggish starts at the plate. Chris Young started in left field on Thursday, hitting .205 (8-for-39) with two homers and six RBIs. Curtis Granderson was in right field, hitting .136 (12-for-88) with a homer and seven RBIs, and former Rockies outfielder Eric Young Jr. was on the bench for his return to Coors Field. Young is hitting .215 (20-for-93) with 12 stolen bases, second in the Majors.
"Young would be a guy that you'd like to have to come off the bench," Collins said, hinting at a possible role as he juggles four capable starting outfielders. "He's got versatility. The fact that he can play center, he can play left, he can play second.
"The other thing he brings is that it's always amazing how many times late in the game the pitcher comes up to lead off an inning. He's the ideal guy to go hit in that spot. He can switch-hit, when he gets on things happen. It's nice to have those kind of guys over there."
Collins said it was "hard to say" if any one of his four outfielders would get the lion's share of the bench time. He explained that he thought Chris Young was hitting the ball well recently, slugging .714 over his last four games with an at-bat.
"I don't mind [juggling] for a while," Collins said. "In the long run, you've got to have three guys you're going to run out there. To pick and choose your spots, and who should play when, you can do that right now. But I think you're going to look up and you're going to want to have three guys that are primarily your guys that are going to be out there."
Mets trying to outrun power shortcomings
DENVER -- The Mets entered Thursday's series opener in Colorado with 25 stolen bases -- 10 more than their home run tally. They were tied for third in the Majors for steals, and second to last in the National League with 15 home runs.
"If you don't have power, you gotta play that game," manager Terry Collins said, referring to Whitey Herzog's speed-induced teams of the 1980s. "We're sitting here today with not a lot of home runs. So we have to use baserunning as one of our weapons to put some runs on the board."
Conversely, the Mets have been successful in keeping other teams from stealing on them, with catchers Travis d'Arnaud and Anthony Recker catching 40 percent of those attempting to steal on them through the season's first month.
"We certainly have spent a lot time trying to do a better job of keeping the running game under control by changing our times at home plate," Collins said. "Our two catchers have worked very hard at their throwing to second base. They've become very accurate in very good time. It's a combination. It helps you win. I truly believe in baserunning on our side, because I think it creates runs."
Hawkins' contribution appreciated by Mets
DENVER -- The Mets were reunited with a staple from their 2013 bullpen on Thursday when they opened a four-game set in Colorado, where LaTroy Hawkins is closing games for the Rockies.
Hawkins is in his 20th year in the Major Leagues, and his nine saves in nine opportunities are tied for third in the Majors entering the series, trailing Milwaukee's Francisco Rodriguez (13) and San Diego's Huston Street (10).
"He filled so many roles for us last year when he first got here," manager Terry Collins said of the 41-year-old right-hander. "He ended up being the closer at the end of the year. [He's got] all the confidence in the world. When he goes on the mound, he's going to throw strikes. And he's going to make you swing the bat to beat him."
Hawkins pitched in 72 games for the Mets in 2013, posting a 2.93 ERA over 70 2/3 innings, striking out 55 and walking 10.
"What he did in that clubhouse and with some of our young pitchers, you can't replace it," Collins said, crediting Hawkins for the Mets' improved bullpen in 2014. "We were fortunate to find a couple quality veteran guys in [Kyle] Farnsworth and [Jose] Valverde, but we miss LaTroy Hawkins in the clubhouse."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.