Out of baseball since 2012, Bobby Abreu is attempting a comeback at age 40.
Based on his first three at-bats for the 51s, the 17-year big-league veteran still can hit.
Signed to a minor-league contract Monday by the New York Mets, Abreu lined a pinch-hit single Thursday in Las Vegas’ season opener at Cashman Field, drilled a pinch-hit three-run double Friday and added a pinch-hit single and scored in Saturday’s 8-6 loss to the Fresno Grizzlies before a crowd of 8,555.
“He turned on a 98 mph fastball with the bases loaded, so I’d say he can still hit,” 51s manager Wally Backman said before Saturday’s game, in which his bullpen blew a 6-1 lead in the ninth, allowing seven runs with two outs.
Abreu has shown no ill effects from taking a year off and celebrating his 40th birthday on March 11.
“I feel normal, the way I run the bases and the way I play the game,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re 40 or not if you can still do it.
“I just have to keep showing I can still play the game.”
One of the most durable and consistent performers in baseball for most of his career, Abreu recorded career lows in virtually every key offensive category in 2012 with the Los Angeles Angels and Dodgers.
After failing to attract much interest in the offseason, the two-time All-Star headed home to Venezuela, where he sat out last season.
“I just decided not to play,” he said. “In June, I decided to make a comeback and got myself ready for winter ball.”
Playing under Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens, Abreu — a .292 career hitter with 287 home runs, 2,437 hits and 399 steals — lit up the Venezuelan Winter League, batting .322 in 50 games for Leones del Caracas with eight homers in 15 playoff games.
He spent spring training with the Philadelphia Phillies — for whom he played parts of nine seasons before getting traded to the New York Yankees in 2006 — but was released after batting .244 with no homers and two RBIs.
Backman said the Mets nonetheless were impressed with the fact that Abreu — who has a career .396 on-base percentage — drew 10 walks in spring training and compiled a .404 OBP.
“That’s one of the things our organization is big about is on-base percentage,” he said.
Hudgens also had good things to say.
“He saw me play every day and recommended me to the Mets,” Abreu said. “He saw all the things I can still do.
“I’m feeling good right now. My body’s good. I’m enjoying this. I love baseball. I’m having fun.”
New York general manager Sandy Alderson said Wednesday he expects Abreu “at some point can be a guy off the bench” for the Mets.
“He’s got a great approach at the plate,” Alderson said.
Abreu, who has compiled nine 20-homer seasons and eight 100-RBI seasons, has accepted the fact he will be used primarily as a pinch-hitter by New York should he get the call.
“I have no problem with that. I understand the role,” he said. “I’m here to get my at-bats, and whenever they decide to call me up, I’m ready.”
Backman, who doesn’t expect Abreu to be in Las Vegas for long, said the plan is to use him as a pinch-hitter against Fresno and as a designated hitter against Sacramento, which arrives here Monday for a four-game series.
“We’ll probably work him in the outfield if we have him that long,” he said. “He would definitely, in my opinion, be the main left-handed hitter off the bench (for the Mets). He knows how to hit. He hasn’t been in the big leagues 17 different years for no reason.”
Backman said the veteran brings instant leadership to the 51s.
“Bobby’s a big-time professional and a great guy. He’s always been a leader wherever he’s played,” he said. “It’s nice to have him — I’m sure probably for a short time — to let the players see those things about guys like that.”
Abreu is one of only four players in history with at least 500 doubles, 250 homers and 350 steals. The others are Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson and Craig Biggio.
He’s tied with Willie Mays for most consecutive seasons (13) with at least 150 games played — a streak that ended, along with a string of 13 straight 15-homer seasons, in 2011, when he only hit eight homers in 142 games for the Angels.
Abreu also compiled a stretch of 13 straight 20-steal seasons — the longest streak in the majors since Henderson’s 23 straight from 1979 to 2001 — that ended in 2012, when he was limited to a career-low six steals while batting only .242 with three homers and 24 RBIs in 100 games.
He hopes he gets the chance to add another chapter to his career in New York, where he enjoyed two-plus solid seasons with the Yankees.
“It’s a lot of fun playing in New York,” said Abreu, who almost always wears a smile. “I’m just going to keep working trying to get back.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.