PHILADELPHIA — Robinson Cano’s push to return this season will reach a new level of legitimacy Saturday, when he is scheduled to begin a minor league rehab assignment for Single-A Brooklyn.
The Mets second baseman has been sidelined since Aug. 5 with a torn left hamstring, an injury that Cano was initially told would take 6-12 weeks to heal. But Cano felt strong enough to increase his workload at Citi Field this week to include batting practice and running, albeit not at game speed.
With the minor league season concluding in the coming days, the Mets deemed Cano ready to test his hamstring in game action.
“It’s not a chance we’re taking,” manager Mickey Callaway said before the Mets opened a three-game series against the Phillies with an 11-5 win at Citizens Bank Park. “I think it’s the rehab process that he’s on and where he’s at and how he feels and what we’re seeing. I think it would have been the same even if we were midway through the season because he feels like he’s in a real good spot.
“The performance staff feels like he is ready to do this, and this is a big step for him.”
Cano, 36, has struggled for much of the season, slashing .252/.295/.415 with 10 homers and 32 RBIs in 86 games. But he was on the upswing before the injury, posting an .857 OPS in the 30 games before tearing his hamstring.
In Cano’s absence, the Mets have played veteran free-agent pickup Joe Panik at second base and also given Jeff McNeil opportunities at the position.
With rosters set to expand Sunday, the Mets will face no real risk in bringing back Cano at some point, even if he is limited to strictly pinch-hitting.
“You are running out of minor league games to go and play, so at some point you probably have to do that,” Callaway said, referring to the rehab assignment. “Unless you want to set up live BPs and stuff like that so it might make more sense at some point just to get some of these guys in there and have them off the bench if they are not ready to play a full nine.”
Cano has been a regular clubhouse presence, even traveling with the Mets during his IL stint. Those leadership qualities haven’t gone unnoticed in the room.
“He helps a lot of young guys out, keeps them on an even-keel,” Todd Frazier said. “It’s good for the team.”
The Mets completed the final six games of a 15-1 surge in the immediate aftermath of Cano’s injury, but have struggled lately. That included losing six straight games against the Braves and Cubs to finish the last homestand.
“Cano’s injury hurt us but then we did well without him and hit a sag here,” Frazier said. “The more guys we can get, the better.”
Brandon Nimmo, who is rehabbing from a bulging disk in his neck, was set to play another rehab game at Triple-A Syracuse on Friday. Jed Lowrie is also rehabbing with Syracuse — he homered in Thursday’s game.
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