Manager Buck Showalter of the Mets has been coaching in professional baseball since 1985, and he has learned there are some lines you don’t want to cross.
One is getting a reliever warmed up — sometimes more than once — but not using him in the game. The practice irks pitchers, sometimes to extreme levels.
Early in his managerial career, Showalter got a lesson in why you should avoid this practice from Steve Howe. One night in Cleveland, after Showalter had warmed up Howe but did not use him, there was a commotion coming from Howe’s hotel room, which was directly above Showalter’s. When the manager asked the player the next day if everything was OK, Howe insisted he was just releasing the pent-up emotion of the day after not getting into the game.
It turns out pitchers aren’t the only players to experience this. Showalter was recalling the story about Howe after admitting he had asked Daniel Vogelbach, his team’s designated hitter and left-handed pinch-hitting specialist, to prepare to come into the game twice on Saturday, only to leave him on the bench in a 3-0 win.
Vogelbach had more fun with the situation than Howe had.
“We were laughing about it,” Showalter said the next day, going as far as to re-enact Vogelbach’s reaction. He added: “They get all this juice up to pinch-hit. They’re ready to go and all of a sudden, it doesn’t happen.”
That was Showalter’s long way of saying Vogelbach has brought more than just left-handed power to the first-place Mets since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 22. Vogelbach’s contributions at the plate are appreciated, but so is his presence in the clubhouse.
Mets fans seem just as enamored of Vogelbach as Showalter. A burly hitter at 6 feet and 270 pounds, Vogelbach has quickly endeared himself with a few big home runs and maximum effort on the basepaths. He has felt the love from his latest home crowd in a well-traveled career, but he’s trying not to get caught up in it, either.
“It’s been nice,” Vogelbach said. “It’s nice to feel like the fans are behind you. But I just try to put my head down and just play baseball.”
While limited by his lack of a defensive position (he has played five games at first base this year, all for the Pirates) and his extreme platoon splits as a hitter, he has been one of the biggest contributors among players acquired by contending teams at the trading deadline.
“He’s been a great fit for us,” Showalter said. “Very serious about the game but doesn’t take himself too seriously. Really likes winning. I think he really likes being in this situation he’s been given.”
Taijuan Walker, who is scheduled to start for the Mets on Tuesday in the first game of a crucial three-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, agreed with Showalter’s assessment.
“Great teammate,” he said of Vogelbach. “Always laughing, always smiling, always having a good time. Just brings good energy to the team.”
Walker first played with Vogelbach in Seattle, where the two began their major league careers. Vogelbach, 29, was called up for the first time in 2016, but he played in only 61 M.L.B. games over his first three seasons.
Vogelbach then had a breakout season in 2019, making his first All-Star team. He hit .208, and struck out 149 times, but 30 home runs and a .341 on-base percentage had him looking like a three true outcome contributor in the same vein as Joey Gallo, the former Yankee and current Dodger.
Then things got complicated. His 2020 season started poorly, leading to his being designated for assignment by the Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays. A waiver claim led to a productive stint in Milwaukee — he hit .328 down the stretch with four home runs, helping lead the Brewers to the playoffs — but a hamstring strain the next season stripped him of his power and led to the Brewers nontendering him this past off-season.
He signed with Pittsburgh, and with his hamstring healthy, his power returned, with 12 home runs in 75 games. With the Pirates going nowhere, Vogelbach was on the move again, this time in a trade to the Mets for Colin Holderman, a rookie reliever.
“I mean, people got to want you, I guess,” Vogelbach said of his multiple stops. “I feel like I played my way out of Pittsburgh. Played well and they weren’t ready to win and I wasn’t a part of their plan. Had some good years in Seattle and then guess they were ready to move on from me, and same as Milwaukee, I guess.”
His batting average since his arrival in Queens was .250 through Monday, a modest number for many. But combined with his patience, it led to an impressive .388 on-base percentage. He also had four home runs, including one in a loss to the Yankees last week.
That home run was against Domingo Germán, a right-hander, which was hardly a surprise: All 16 of Vogelbach’s home runs this season have come against righties. For his career, he is batting .259 with 65 homers against right-handed pitchers, and .134 with six homers against left-handers.
Teams will always need left-handed power, so Vogelbach should have some job security, even if it means bouncing from team to team. But with a team-friendly $1.5 million club option for 2023, there’s a chance he has a home in Queens for at least another season, which would be his longest stop since Seattle.
That would be fine with him.
“I’ve enjoyed playing here and would like to be back, but that’s all out of my control,” he said. “I have to perform and I have to play well for any of that stuff to come to reality.”