“T.J. Rivera continues to hit major league pitching.” That was the ending of Howie Rose’s radio call of Rivera’s second major league homer in Sunday’s 3-2 victory over the Twins.
Rivera has now had 6 multiple hit games in the 13 games he has started as a New York Met and is hitting .344. A big surprise?
Hardly. At least for the Met fans lucky enough to have watched Rivera bat over the last four years as he worked his way up the Mets minor league ladder.
When I interviewed T.J. last season, you may recall I asked him what the secret to his success was and why he has always raked at every level.
“With a strike or two strikes my approach will change a little bit. My swing doesn’t change but my approach does. With two strikes, I’m going to let the ball get a little deeper. The pitcher’s got a different approach, too, he’s trying to extend the zone a little. So, I have to change my approach and work a little harder to compete.”
“I don’t want to just put the ball in play with two strikes, I want to put it in play hard and make something happen. Obviously, everything changes with guys on base.”
Those present in the park on dozens of occasions watching this kid’s approach in the batter’s box knew he would hit major league pitching.
No, he wasn’t always patient, and he wasn’t always content to draw a base-on-balls. But, the kid knows the strike zone and was ready and eager to drive his pitch. Always a terrific contact hitter, and always a cut above the typical guys playing at his level.
There were always rationales from the doubters, people who had never watched Rivera play. He’s older than the guys at this level. He doesn’t hit with enough power. His on-base percentage isn’t high enough. On and on, the doubts of the skeptics never ended. Now they can’t stop jumping on his bandwagon, a bandwagon that started here on MMO four years ago.
T.J. Rivera has always stayed focused. Even as he was continuously overlooked as one player after another, guys whose minor league credentials paled when matched with his, were getting the call. T.J. just rolled with it and kept doing what he always does – hit.
When Rivera finally was called to Citi Field, his bat did not go unnoticed. With an injury riddled pitching staff, T.J. was shipped back to Vegas where he continued to hit becoming the Pacific Coast League batting champion. It’s difficult to simply discount a guy who out-hits every other guy in the league. Again and again.
Now, as Rivera becomes a more constant presence in the lineup as the Mets make their push to reach the post season, his backers and doubters unite as one, each pulling for one of the newest Mets to continue to contribute to the playoff push.
What will it mean going forward for Rivera? Who knows. At the moment Rivera is focused on doing whatever he can to help the Mets reach the post season.
One would think Rivera’s consistent performance has to improve the chances the Mets will give him a shot next year to make the Varsity squad.
At the very least we know the Mets won’t leave him exposed to the Rule 5 draft again. Can you imagine if he had been scooped up last Winter?
Even a home run powered roster can use a guy who can set the table and drive home a run with a base hit. T.J., a great baseball story, is a guy who has earned a serious look.
I’m reminded of another exclusive interview I had with Jim Weed, the general manager of the Binghamton Mets. He has watched a lot of top MLB prospects over the years make their way through the Eastern League. I asked him about T.J. after he was promoted to Double-A in 2014. “If this kid ever gets a look in the majors, I know he’s going to hit.”
Back then, not too many people believed in T.J. Rivera, but over the last few weeks T.J. has gained a ton of new believers including everyone in the Mets clubhouse and manager Terry Collins as well.
Read More from MMO on Rivera Over the Years: