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Mets’ DH battle down to DJ Stewart and Ji-Man Choi with Luke Voit cut



PORT ST. LUCIE — Carlos Mendoza used to sit with Aaron Boone, Brian Cashman and the rest of the Yankees decision-makers when it came to delivering bad news. But until Saturday, he had never had to tell players battling for roster spots that they lost their battles himself.

The Mets informed Luke Voit, Jose Iglesias and Tomas Nido that they would not be traveling north to New York with the team when they break camp Monday in Tampa. Voit can opt out of his minor league contract to become a free agent.

“It’s not easy, but it’s part of the business,” Mendoza said Saturday at Clover Park before the Mets fell 13-5 to the Houston Astros in a Grapefruit League game. “When you sign up for a position like this, you know it’s coming.”

Voit, a former Yankees first baseman who was brought in to create competition for the DH spot, didn’t have a great showing this spring, hitting .097 with a .405 OPS and one home run. A right-handed hitter, the 33-year-old was behind Mark Vientos on the depth chart already, so when the Mets signed J.D. Martinez (who won’t break camp with the team) on Thursday, he became irrelevant.

That leaves Ji-Man Choi and DJ Stewart as the only two contenders left in the DH competition. Both left-handed hitters, Choi a veteran first baseman, is hitting .189 with a .642 OPS and one home run, while Stewart, an outfielder, has posted similar numbers (.171, .612 OPS, one home run). Stewart has a minor league option year remaining, while Choi, who is in camp on a minor league contract, does not.

The left-handed DH will be the backup first baseman. Choi has the edge in that competition while Stewart has been playing the position in minor-league games to get acclimated.

“It’s a work in progress,” Stewart told the Daily News. “It’s definitely something that the more I play, the more comfortable I get.”

Stewart has the fundamentals of the position down, especially since he played some first base last year with Triple-A Syracuse, but the instincts aren’t quite there yet.

“In the outfield, when the ball is hit I know exactly where to go with it,” Stewart said. “There was a play the other day in a backfield game with someone on first and second, and a kid hit a ball up the middle that I thought the shortstop had a chance at, so I would go to cover to get maybe a double play or an out at first. When it got there, I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go, I’m the cutoff [man]. It’s just like that half-second that you could be late and cost us a run, or something bigger.”

However, the Mets still seem pleased with Stewart’s play this spring. Mendoza said he had good at-bats against quality pitchers and showed an ability to control the strike zone. Stewart had some hard hits that didn’t go unnoticed by the Mets.

Choi can opt out of his contract if he doesn’t make the team. He has the track record and the defensive abilities, but Smith might have the edge with the bat. Smith has not been told anything by Mets officials yet.

QUINTANA ROUGHED UP

Left-hander Jose Quintana got a final tuneup before Opening Day against the Brewers. It wasn’t his best work, but best he gets it out of the way before the season begins.

Quintana gave up five earned runs on three hits, walked four and struck out six over three innings. The trouble started right away, with Houston going up 3-0 in the first inning thanks to a three-run home run with one out.

Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner identified something in those three innings and had him come out to work in the bullpen, where he threw about 20 more pitches.

“It was one of those days that he was just out of sync,” Mendoza said.

OPENING ROTATION

The Mets set their rotation for the start of the season. Following Quintana’s Opening Day start, the Mets will go to right-hander Luis Severino, followed by righty Tylor Megill, lefty Sean Manaea and righty Adrian Houser.

Severino will make his final Grapefruit League start Sunday in a split-squad contest, pitching at home against the Washington Nationals, while Megill goes on the road to Jupiter to face the Miami Marlins. Manaea will close out the spring slate by starting the exhibition game in Tampa against the Yankees.

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