Q&A: Jeff Keppinger

With Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui both spending their days in Port St. Lucie, the Mets have received an opportunity to see what Jeff Keppinger can do a lot sooner than they'd expected. <P> Keppinger, who was acquired in the Kris Benson trade on July 30, received another start on Monday against the Marlins. He discussed his situation with NYFansOnly: (Premium Content)

In a matter of weeks, you were traded, jumped two levels in the minors, and then made your Major League debut with the Mets. Has this been a whirlwind of activity for you?

It has. You know, coming over from the Pirates in the trade and playing at Double-A, and then playing at Norfolk for a couple of weeks, and then coming up here. It's all happening pretty fast, and I know I've got to kind of calm down a little bit. It's getting a little bit hectic. But the guys are treating me good, so I'll eventually settle in.

When things happen that quickly, are you able to absorb any of it, or does it just fly by?

It's flying by. It's tough to explain, but it's kind of nerve-racking a little bit. Hopefully, as the days go on, I can just calm down and play my game.

What was your reaction when you learned you'd been traded to the Mets?

I was a little surprised. There were rumors [of a trade between the Pirates and the Mets], but I thought they'd be about other guys, so I didn't really pay too much attention to the trade talk. To hear my name was definitely a shocker, but hey, it's got me here [to the major leagues]. You can't really argue with that situation.

You were having a good year at Double-A Altoona, but did you ever think that you'd wind up in the Major Leagues by the end of the season?

No, but you know, if it weren't for all the injuries, half of these new guys probably wouldn't be here. All I can do is take advantage of it and try to get the job done to the best of my abilities.

How much of a relief was it to get your first Major League hit (a single off of San Francisco's Jim Brower on Aug. 21) out of the way?

Oh, it was so great. That was definitely a good feeling, and I'm glad it came quickly and got some of the pressure out of the way. If it hadn't come so quickly, I'd probably have started pressing in my at-bats. Like I said, it's been hard for me to even calm down a little bit, so every little bit is helping right now.

You joined the Mets in San Francisco. What were your initial impressions of life in the Major Leagues?

Really overwhelming. Everybody's so… this is the big leagues, you know? I don't know how to explain it, but everything's pretty much the way I thought it would be. It's a whole different world, and it's definitely a good thing.

After the Giants series, it must have been nice flying back across the country to Shea Stadium.

Oh, definitely. To sit on a charter plane where you can eat whatever you want, sit wherever you want… that's pretty nice.

You went through your first 27 plate appearances with the Mets without striking out, four shy of a club record (Kevin Baez, 31). When did the importance of contact hitting set in?

When I was little, I'd always worry that people were going to think I [stunk] if I walked back to the dugout after striking out. I'd always try to make it a point to put the ball in play.

I'd rather walk into the dugout from first base after grounding out than to walk back from the plate after striking out, when it seems like everybody's looking at you and thinking that you're no good. My goal is always to put the ball in play and make my outs that way.

So your ability to make contact rose out of a fear of being embarrassed?

I definitely think so. I would not fit in with most of today's hitters, because they're all big power guys. I don't have a whole lot of power, but this is the way I play. I can do this, so I can keep playing the way I play and hopefully [the Mets] like it.

You have some great career numbers against Mark Prior from when you were playing at the University of Georgia and Prior was pitching for Southern California (4-for-9, including a triple and a two-run homer). Would you say that you owned Prior?

(Keppinger laughs) I'm not going to say that. I had a couple of good games against him, and I'll leave it at that. Who knows? I might have to face him again in the big leagues and it might be a different story. I don't want to go that route.

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