Gonzalez, the Mets’ slumping first baseman who was on the verge of losing some playing time to Bruce, drove in five runs, including a three-run, opposite-field home run in the seventh inning that put the game out of the Padres’ reach.
Entering Sunday, the Mets’ offense was near the league average in runs scored per game. A power-hitting lineup in the past, they had just 23 home runs, the fifth-lowest in baseball, because Bruce, Frazier and Conforto, who is returning from shoulder surgery, had combined for only six blasts — though Frazier added one in the eighth inning on Sunday. (Frazier and Conforto have been more effective at drawing walks.)
In an effort to boost the offense, Callaway may give more playing time to the backup outfielder Brandon Nimmo, who has hit well in limited chances. That would mean Bruce would play at first base “every now and again,” Callaway said, along with Wilmer Flores and Gonzalez, who have thus far formed a platoon at the position.
Gonzalez, 35, a veteran left-handed hitter with a bad back on a one-year deal, and Flores, a right-handed hitter, both entered Sunday’s game batting .200 or lower. Luck, in some instances, has not been on Gonzalez’s side because advanced metrics show he has hit the ball better than his numbers indicate.
“It’s for the benefit of everyone to keep Adrian rested and to make sure Nimmo gets in the game as much as he should be playing and keep Bruce in there as often as possible,” Callaway said. “It’s a fine balance.”
On the mound, the Mets’ rotation had a 4.13 earned run average entering Sunday, 15th in baseball — disappointing numbers for a group that was expected to be among the best in the majors entering this season.
The Mets are 9-3 in games started by deGrom (2.06 E.R.A.) and Syndergaard (2.86 E.R.A.) but 8-6 in games started by everyone else. Matt Harvey was moved to the bullpen to keep Wheeler in the rotation and to make room for Jason Vargas, who signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Mets this winter.
After recovering from surgery on his non-throwing hand, Vargas made a miserable season debut on Saturday, allowing nine runs over three and two-thirds innings. Wheeler (4.09 E.R.A.) had a mixed outing Sunday: He threw too many pitches, so he lasted only five innings, but he allowed just two runs while striking out nine.
There is some uncertainty about Steven Matz’s next start. Healthy for the first time in a while, Matz (4.98 E.R.A.) has pitched feebly. His upper back stiffened on Saturday and he threw a full bullpen session a day later, but Callaway will decide if Matz can make his next start, on Tuesday in New York against the Atlanta Braves. If not, Callaway said the Mets can push Matz back and use Syndergaard on regular rest.
“I’m very optimistic this rotation is going to be good in the long run,” Callaway said over the weekend.
The Mets bullpen, which has been steadier than the rotation, was without relief pitcher Jeurys Familia on Sunday. He was given permission to attend a ceremony for the passing of his father-in-law, and was expected to rejoin the team on Tuesday. Without him, the Mets used Paul Sewald, Robert Gsellman and Harvey to complete the victory.
It was a fine formula for a big win on Sunday, but one they will have to tweak if they hope to extend this hot start.