Jeff McNeil keeps flourishing at bottom of the Mets’ lineup


WASHINGTON — Jeff McNeil might be the Mets’ hottest hitter, but that doesn’t mean a significant bump in the batting order is necessary for him.

The surging second baseman batted seventh on Wednesday against Nationals right-hander Aaron Sanchez, a night after he hit eighth against lefty Patrick Corbin.

“You can do about anything with [McNeil],” manager Buck Showalter said before the Mets’ 8-3 loss. “It’s kind of, you look at the batting order, and I am trying to protect some things.”

Without divulging too many specifics, Showalter indicated Dominic Smith’s presence in the lineup — he batted fifth — affected where McNeil was slotted.

After going 1-for-4 Wednesday night, McNeil is 20-for-53 (.377) in his last 16 games.

“It’s just nice to have such a versatile piece,” Showalter said. “You need a leadoff hitter or three-hole hitter, he can go about anywhere. It’s really an asset for us.”

The Mets’ Jeff McNeil

Showalter was still undecided before the game whether Max Scherzer or Chris Bassitt would receive the extra day of rest this turn through the rotation. Both started Sunday in a doubleheader, and one will be needed to pitch Friday against the Mariners at Citi Field. Taijuan Walker is the scheduled starter for the series finale Thursday against the Nationals.

Edwin Diaz’s ninth-inning dominance has been a significant part of the Mets’ early success, but Showalter said there will be times this season when the right-hander will be thrust into a high-leverage role in the eighth.

Diaz entered Wednesday having allowed three hits and one run, with 17 strikeouts, over his last 10 innings.

“It’s one thing to have a good eight innings and then all of a sudden, from a psychological standpoint you never, you don’t want your team saying, ‘How much is enough tonight?’ ” Showalter said. “I think when we do certain things Edwin has got a chance to make it hold up and matter. It’s a hard job.”

Sean Reid-Foley underwent Tommy John surgery in Texas and will return to Florida for rehab. The right-hander likely will be out until after the All-Star break next season.

Drew Smith is one of two MLB players this season to pitch at least 13 innings and not surrender an earned run. The franchise record is 21 scoreless innings to begin a season, last accomplished by Duaner Sanchez in 2006.

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