When the Mets return to Nationals Park on Saturday for the second game of a three-game set, their fans will have a look at someone they haven't seen much of lately.
Center fielder Juan Lagares is expected to return to the starting lineup Saturday, after being absent from it in four of the Mets' last five games. Known primarily for his defensive abilities, Lagares will look to jumpstart an offense that has struggled since leaving Yankee Stadium earlier this week.
"It's a little hard, but you have to be ready for the opportunity," Lagares said of playing so infrequently. "You never know what's going to happen. When you play every day, you can make better adjustments. You just have to be ready for it. I just come here ready to play every day."
For now, Lagares will have to settle for playing whenever manager Terry Collins decides to scrawl his name on the lineup card. Citing a need for as much offense as possible, Collins proceeded without Lagares on Friday night, and the Mets lost anyway.
The Nationals, meanwhile, continue to hover around .500, but they've fared well against the bottom half of the league. Washington took 2-of-3 from the D-backs in Arizona, and beat New York in the first game of the three-game set on Friday.
Even with injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche, the Nats are three games above .500, entering Saturday just a half-game behind the Braves in the NL East.
"I think we're in good position," manager Matt Williams said. "It's not what we wanted, for sure, but I think we're in good position, given all the stuff that's happened. But we're not alone and we have to continue to do things right.
"It's a little bit like we've been bobbing around, keeping our head above water, but we haven't started swimming yet necessarily."
Saturday's game will pit veteran starters Bartolo Colon and Gio Gonzalez against one another. Colon has struggled mightily of late, giving up seven runs in two of his last three starts. Gonzalez also allowed seven runs in his last outing, though he held a 2.91 ERA going into that game.
Mets: Mejia the closer, except when he's not
Jenrry Mejia did not pitch in Friday's loss to the Nationals, meaning he should be available to close on Saturday if needed. The Mets have not officially named a closer since outrighting Kyle Farnsworth, but Collins said earlier this week that Mejia should receive the bulk of the chances on days that he is available.
When exactly Mejia might be available is the tricky part. Since converting the right-hander back to relief this week, the Mets have not attempted to use him on back-to-back days. That test, Collins said, could come as soon as this weekend. But until Mejia passes it, he cannot be the Mets' full-time closer.
"He hasn't been back-to-back in four years, so we've got to be careful," Collins said. "If it's not this weekend, next week he's got to go back-to-back sometime."
On days when Mejia is not available, Jose Valverde and Daisuke Matsuzaka are the primary candidates to close.
Nationals: Still no timetable for Zimmerman's return
Monday will mark five weeks since Zimmerman fractured his right thumb, and the Nationals third baseman will undergo his second X-ray in as many weeks that day. Williams isn't putting a timetable on Zimmerman's return.
"Once the doctor clears him, then he can start all his strengthening exercises," Williams said.
Williams said that Zimmerman is capable of lifting, running and catching balls, but can't put any stress on the fractured thumb, which has been "immobilized."
"It's a question of pain tolerance, continue to look at the X-rays and not go too fast," Williams said. "If we push him or he pushes himself too hard and he re-fractures it, that's eight weeks -- minimum."
• The Mets scored twice in the fifth inning Friday to snap a 22-inning scoreless streak, their second-longest drought of the month. The team also had a 23-inning scoreless streak from May 5-9. The Mets avoided being shut out in three consecutive games for the first time in 22 years.
• Harper is back in Washington, continuing to rehab from surgery to repair a torn left thumb ligament. "The stitches are out and he's in a brace," Williams said. "He is going to get checked out as well next week by the doctor and go see the specialist" in Cleveland. "He's still very early in the process."
• Collins said that when Dillon Gee returns from the disabled list on May 26, the Mets will choose to keep either Rafael Montero or Jacob deGrom in the rotation -- but not both. Despite the strong debuts of both Montero and deGrom this week, Collins intimated that the jobs of all his other starters are safe.