In a 7-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves last weekend, Ruben Tejada filled in for Jose Reyes both at shortstop and in the leadoff spot. Tejada reached base three times (walk, double, single), stole a base and drove in four runs. His two-out, three-run double in the fourth inning broke a 1-1 tie and his two-out, RBI single in the eighth inning gave the Mets a 6-5 lead, a lead they never relinquished.
Ruben Tejada was once viewed as a light-hitting, slick-fielding middle infielder, similar to Rey Ordoñez, although not as flashy. However, this season he has shown that he can handle the bat better than anyone expected him to, and has handled pressure situations like an established veteran.
Tejada has been a model of consistency at the plate, hitting .281 vs. RHP and .276 vs. LHP. He is also hitting .272 at Citi Field and .287 on the road. His .356 on-base percentage ranks second on the team behind Jose Reyes for players currently on the active roster. Tejada has also struck out only 47 times in 339 plate appearances.
But what sets him apart from the Tejada we saw in 2010 is his ability to hit under pressure and in RBI spots. This year, Tejada is batting .304 with men on base and has a .377 OBP in those situations. With runners in scoring position, Tejada is a .286 hitter, but has reached base at a .383 clip. But those numbers are nothing compared to what he does when there is a runner 90 feet away from scoring.
In all situations when he has stepped to the plate with a runner on third base, Tejada is hitting .375 and has a .425 OBP. These numbers improve when Tejada bats with the bases loaded. In yesterday’s game, Tejada came up to bat twice with the bags full. He cleared the bases when he doubled in the fourth and drove in another run with a bases-loaded single in the eighth, with a potential fifth RBI cut down at the plate on a fine throw by Jason Heyward. Therefore, with his 2-for-2 performance in bases loaded situations yesterday, Tejada is now hitting .500 this season with the bags full and has a .538 OBP.
Clearly, the stat sheet proves that Tejada is quite valuable as a hitter. Although he doesn’t hit for power, he collects base hits as a consistent pace and picks them up with more regularity when the Mets are close to scoring a run. There is one thing that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet that Tejada is also good at. He’s a master at working the count and making the opposing pitcher throw numerous pitches.
Take yesterday’s game, for example. In the first inning, Tejada flied out, but did so on the sixth pitch of his at-bat. In the third inning, Tejada worked out a walk on the tenth pitch of the at-bat. By seeing 16 pitches from Braves’ starter Brandon Beachy in his first two plate appearances, Tejada saw his opponent’s entire repertoire and was able to make adjustments the third time he faced him. Sure enough, Tejada hit a long double in the fourth inning off Beachy, driving in three runs.
Ruben Tejada will never produce the numbers that Jose Reyes does when he’s healthy. In addition, no one will ever confuse the professional Tejada for the effervescent Reyes. But don’t say that Tejada can’t be a key member of this team.
In only his second year on the Mets, Tejada has improved by leaps and bounds. He makes up for his lack of power by working counts and making the pitcher throw him his pitch. He’s a fantastic situational hitter and amps up his game in tight spots. (Did I mention Tejada’s a .310 hitter when he comes to bat in a tie game? In case you were watching football and not the Mets game, yesterday’s two bases-loaded hits by Tejada came when the score was 1-1 and 5-5.)
Simply put, Ruben Tejada knows how to play the game and plays the game to win. At the young age of 21, he has played like a ten-year veteran. With continued development and the opportunity to play, there’s no reason to think that he can’t become one. Even if Jose Reyes isn’t a Met in 2012, Ruben Tejada has proven that he belongs on this team.