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Can Kirk Nieuwenhuis Maintain This?

Captain Kirk.
Captain Kirk.

When Kirk Nieuwenhuis was called up fill the void left by Andres Torres' calf injury following the Mets' game on Opening Day, there was no guarantee that he would even play every day. Just over three weeks later, Nieuwenhuis has been nothing short of brilliant in his major league debut.

In 21 games, Nieuwenhuis has hit .316/.381/.474. His .377 wOBA ranks seventh among qualified outfielders in the National League, and he's made a handful of excellent catches in center field. Kirk hasn't been without his flaws - the fly ball he missed in center field last week and baserunning blunder yesterday come to mind - but has generally been one of the highlights of the first month of the young 2012 season.

Tonight, Torres will make his return, and he'll take over in center field and the leadoff spot in the batting order. Since Jason Bay is on the disabled list, however, Nieuwenhuis will shift to left field for now. At some point down the road, there will be questions about which players should play every day in left and center.

As good as he has been, there are a couple of reasons to be concerned about Nieuwenhuis' future performance. His .440 batting average on balls in play is, quite simply, unsustainable, and his 28.6% strikeout percentage is high. A month from now, his triple-slash line probably won't look this good.

There's still plenty of reason for optimism, though. Between 2010 and 2011, Nieuwenhuis was a very good hitter at the upper levels of the Mets' minor league system. If he winds up hitting a notch below the .298/.403/.505 line he put up in 53 games with Buffalo last year, there will be a case to keep Kirk in the lineup while benching either Bay or Torres. If all three players end up playing well, the Mets will have a good problem on their hands.