NEW YORK (AP) — Yoenis Céspedes is sure he’ll be ready to start the pandemic-delayed season with the New York Mets.
Out of the lineup for almost two years, the 34-year-old slugger said Saturday he finally is close to fully recovered from a string of injuries to his feet and legs.
“I don’t have an exact percentage on how I feel, but I feel way better than I did back in March,” Céspedes said through a translator on a video conference call.
When the coronavirus outbreak halted spring training March 12 and pushed back opening day about four months, that gave Céspedes more time to rehab and heal up.
He said he woke at 5 a.m. for workouts seven days a week during the hiatus, which helped him a lot.
“I think possibly in the beginning in March I felt like I probably wouldn’t have been ready for the season, I wouldn’t have been ready in time. But I know for certain now that I will be ready and I’m very excited for the season to start in two weeks,” he said.
The Mets open at home July 24 against Atlanta. And with the designated hitter available in the National League this year, Céspedes is a prime candidate for that role during a shortened schedule of 60 games.
The two-time All-Star outfielder missed last season and most of 2018. He had surgery on both heels and then broke his right ankle in a nasty fall at his Florida ranch in a reported run-in with a wild boar.
“Honestly, the hardest part is getting to the point where my legs are right now, the way they feel . They can still feel better. But the way they feel right now, I didn’t think I could get to this point,” he said.
“I think what changed was that I started to feel more motivation, that I could return back to the form that I used to be at.”
Céspedes said at spring training in February he expected to come back this year, and he’s looked healthy and dangerous in the batter’s box since summer camp opened July 3 at Citi Field.
He cracked a two-run homer off Seth Lugo during an intrasquad game Thursday. But rather than trot around the bases after the ball cleared the fence, Céspedes simply walked back to the dugout.
It seems his only remaining hurdle is showing he can sprint full speed without issue.
“I’ve been able to start running close to as normal as possible, and I think that’s been the biggest stride,” Céspedes said. “Just the way that my body feels now, it’s been great.”
Late last month, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said the team was optimistic Céspedes would be ready for the season. Van Wagenen also noted Céspedes is a five-tool athlete and won’t necessarily be limited to DH duty if healthy.
The left fielder is entering the final season of a four-year contract.
“The way that my body’s feeling right now and the way that I’ve been able to run, I feel so much better and I feel like I’ll be able to play the outfield if that comes up,” he said.
Céspedes hasn’t played since July 20, 2018 — his only major league game after May 13 that year.
“To be honest, I’m not out here to prove anything to anyone. I’m out here to prove something to myself — that after three surgeries that I can come back and play the way that I know that I can,” he said.
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