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Daniel Vogelbach hits grand slam in Mets’ win over Nationals

WASHINGTON — Whether fairly or not, much of the ink spilled over the Mets’ Trade Deadline strategy focused less on what the team accomplished and more on what it didn’t. The Mets did not acquire a catcher or a lefty reliever. They did not mimic the splashier moves of the Braves, Phillies, Padres and other National League rivals.

Yet general manager Billy Eppler was emphatic that the front office “made our club better” by improving at the margins with Daniel Vogelbach, Tyler Naquin, Darin Ruf and Mychal Givens. To prove it, Vogelbach hit a grand slam in the team’s 9-5 win over the Nationals on Wednesday, joining a remember-that-guy list of players whose first long ball for the Mets was a slam.

“It’s always good to hit home runs,” Vogelbach said.

Mets whose first home run was a grand slam
• Daniel Vogelbach at Nationals, Aug. 3, 2022
• Adrián González at Nationals, April 8, 2018
• Justin Ruggiano at Giants, Aug. 18, 2016
• Taylor Teagarden vs. Brewers, June 10, 2014
• Collin Cowgill vs. Padres, April 1, 2013
• Ángel Pagán vs. Cardinals, Aug. 5, 2009
• Omir Santos vs. Marlins, April 27, 2009
• José Reyes at Angels, June 15, 2003
• Dave Marshall at Giants, April 28, 1970
• Jack Hamilton vs. Cardinals, May 20, 1967
• Carl Willey vs. Astros, July 15, 1963

In Vogelbach and Ruf, the Mets feel they have constructed a strong designated-hitter platoon for a club that received only paltry DH contributions over the first four months of the season. Before the acquisition of Vogelbach, the Mets ranked in the bottom third of the Majors in DH production, as measured by OPS. Vogelbach has since lifted the Mets into the middle third thanks to a start that has seen him reach base 16 times in 34 plate appearances.

He entered Wednesday’s play at Nationals Park sporting a .905 OPS against right-handed pitching. Ruf had an .886 OPS vs. lefties. The Mets’ hope is that combined, those two players can approximate the production of an everyday player with an OPS near that latitude — a Pete Alonso or Juan Soto type, as it were.

Perhaps it’s a pipe dream to believe Vogelbach and Ruf can give the Mets superstar production at the DH position, but so far, so good. Vogelbach’s grand slam was the third of his career, coming on a 97 mph Jordan Weems fastball that he arced over the right-field fence.

“If you look at their track record and why they were acquired, it’s pretty obvious what we expect,” manager Buck Showalter said of Vogelbach and Ruf. “We’ve had some good things, but not as many as we’d like to have. We looked at a way to kind of upgrade that, and we think those two guys have a really good track record from both sides of the plate. It presents a real challenge for the other team.”

Entering the season, the Mets seemed as well-equipped as any team to take advantage of the universal DH, with Robinson Canó, Dominic Smith and JD Davis all boasting reasonable track records as hitters. Other National League teams lacked that advantage. But Canó wound up performing so poorly that the Mets designated him for assignment by early May, Smith received a Minor League demotion shortly thereafter and Davis proved unable to match his past production as the right-handed half of a platoon.

“It’s taking advantage of the opportunities you get,” said Ruf, who has spent much of his career in platoon situations in Philadelphia and San Francisco. “It’s really important — especially if you’re getting two or three at-bats at the beginning of the game, or one or two at the end of the game — to be ready to go.”

Over his first two weeks in Flushing, Vogelbach proved his readiness, despite contributing mostly singles and walks. So light was Vogelbach’s production that Max Scherzer began ragging on him within the clubhouse walls, calling the 6-foot, 270-pound slugger a slap hitter.

Then on Wednesday, as Showalter put it, “Vogey had a big hit for us” — changing the narrative not only of Scherzer’s joke, but also of a DH situation that the Mets believe is finally fixed for the stretch run.