Luis Rojas can’t overthink playing Dominic Smith anymore

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PHILADELPHIA — Well, the Mets certainly gave you your money’s worth if you managed to sit through their first victory of the year. It was an artless slog, and it wouldn’t be surprising if you felt numb on both ends by the time this one was through.

But a win is a win, and you must start somewhere. So the Mets will start with this 8-4 rock fight over the Phillies, knocking the home team from the ranks of the unbeaten, ensuring the Mets will not go winless in 2021. And manager Luis Rojas saved the ball from the final out — a 27th out that, for a while, seemed like it might never come for either team — to present to Steve Cohen. The new owner gets the game ball. Sweet story.

Marcus Stroman pitched well. The Phillies did not, issuing eight walks, four of them in a decisive four-run seventh. The Mets stole home!

J.D. Davis’ hand got smashed by a fastball, sure looked broken, but — good news — the X-rays came back negative. The bullpen left a few more acres of scar tissue along the stomach lining of fans who had the stamina to make it through all 3 hours and 40 minutes.

Pete Alonso hit a home run late. That was encouraging.

Dominic Smith hit one early.

That was even more uplifting, because if there was one strand of lasting, sour residue from Monday’s opening-night loss — other than adding another hard-luck no-decision to Jacob deGrom’s unprecedented (and unwanted) collection — it was this:

Where the heck was Dom?

Where was he in the original batting order, which featured Kevin Pillar? Where was he in the fourth inning, when the Mets had a chance to blow the game open and bullpen-proof themselves (if that’s even possible at this point), when Luis Rojas could have pinch hit Smith for Pillar with the bases loaded, one out, two already in and a righty, Brandon Kintzler, on the mound?

He was in there Tuesday night, hitting fifth right behind Alonso, and after Alonso walked leading off the fourth, Smith connected with a Chase Anderson fastball up near his chin and sent it for a ride. The Mets had a 2-0 lead, they were on their way to an adventurous win, and maybe this will remind Rojas that Smith really does need to be an essential element of this team every day.

“He was hunting that fastball,” Rojas said. “And when he elevated it he was able to do something with it, he was so strong.”

It was Buck Showalter who, in the dying weeks of the 2018 season, his last in Baltimore, probably the last of his career, who’d grown wistful behind the batting cage at Yankee Stadium one day and mentioned something that Rojas might want to remember.

“Here’s the thing I learned as a young manager and it’s the thing I see with just about every young manager, even those who have gone on to be very successful in the job,” Showalter said. “This here is a simple game. I know, it’s funny that I’m saying that because people believe all I do is overthink things. And you know something? Sometimes maybe I do.”

He laughed.

“But if you think of the simple things, you’ll be fine. Use that as a default. Don’t complicate things. It’s when you make things complicated that they can become a problem.”

Now, these Mets are going to be complicated by definition. At least until Seth Lugo returns that bullpen is going to be the Coney Island Cyclone of bullpens, that much we’ve already seen — and we haven’t even witnessed the Edwin Diaz Experience yet. That alone would challenge a manager with as much experience as Muggsy McGraw.

As for Rojas who is still, in essence, a rookie manager?

Take the layups where you can find them. The core of the lineup should be a layup. Smith needs to be part of that core.

“It’s great, not surprising,” Rojas said of his left fielder. “This is a guy who’s always ready when he gets his chance. I consider him an everyday player even though he didn’t get the start [Monday]. He’s earned his chance.”

He needs to remember those words: “I consider him an everyday player.” He needs to channel Showalter’s: “If you think of the simple things, you’ll be fine.”

Maybe even needs to listen to Smith, who explained what happens when he’s at his best: “Try not to do too much. Simplify it. Good things happen.”

Take a few notes, and KISS: Keep It Simple, Skipper.

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