Can yoga turn Yoenis Cespedes into the MVP he hopes?

PORT ST. LUCIE — The star outfielder’s initials — Y.C. — might actually stand for “Yoga Cespedes.”

There, in a nutshell, you have the biggest change to Yoenis Cespedes’ workout approach as he attempts to remain on the field this season for the Mets. The hulking Cespedes is now trying yoga, a challenging proposition for somebody who has spent his career concerned with bulking up.

“The first day I couldn’t finish because it was pretty tough,” Cespedes said Monday. “For a person who is not flexible, it’s pretty tough doing yoga.”

The flexibility exercises are a contrast to the video that surfaced of Cespedes performing 900-pound bear squats for team strength and conditioning coordinator Mike Barwis. This offseason, Cespedes, about to begin the second season on his four-year contract worth $110 million, reduced his weight-lifting routine and added running to his schedule.

It comes after a season in which Cespedes played only 81 games because of hamstring and quadriceps injuries. He posted a .292/.352/.540 slash line with 17 homers and 42 RBIs before getting shut down for the season in late August with a right hamstring strain.

“He’s had a great offseason — a lot more running he has done than in the past,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “Everybody identified that he needed that and he has gone to yoga classes for flexibility and he wants to play every day.”

Cespedes going through stretching drillsAnthony J. Causi

Cespedes appeared in 159 games for the Mets and Tigers in 2015 — a number he brought to Callaway’s attention as evidence he can play every day. Callaway doesn’t plan to show restraint and will let Cespedes play as much as he wants. Cespedes sometimes clashed with previous manager Terry Collins over the implementation of built-in off days meant to preserve Cespedes’ legs.

“We have to hold [Cespedes] accountable for the things he wants to do,” Callaway said. “We have to make sure he’s going about his business the right way, fulfilling all those routines that are going to be necessary for him to go out and play every day, but he’s taken the first great step toward that.”

CespedesAnthony J. Causi

Cespedes is optimistic the yoga sessions will remedy the leg problems that have followed him in recent seasons.

“My muscles are more flexible right now,” he said. “When I used to work out with heavy weight lifting I had strength, but I wasn’t flexible. Right now I am flexible.”

Cespedes’ healthy return would rate bigger than any addition the Mets made this offseason to the lineup. It’s a crew that includes Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier and Adrian Gonzalez, all of whom have big home run potential.

“If injuries don’t show up, we have a pretty good chance to be in the playoffs this season,” Cespedes said.

With Cespedes in the lineup for the final two months of 2015, the Mets advanced to the World Series. Cespedes played most of the next season on gimpy legs, but spent only two weeks on the disabled list, and the Mets rallied for a National League wild-card berth.

see also

They were absent so long, it’s sometimes hard to remember…

The Mets’ lineup actually performed at a respectable level during a six-week stretch without Cespedes early last season. By the time he was shut down in late August, the Mets’ season had turned to rubbish.

When he signed with the Mets before the 2017 season — after opting out from his previous contract — Cespedes said his goal was to become MVP. That ambition remains the same.

“I want to be an MVP, that hasn’t changed,” he said. “Last season I wasn’t lucky because I got hurt, but that is my main goal, to become an MVP.”

It doesn’t sound like a stretch for Yoga Cespedes.