Apr 23

John Buck: From Trade Bait To Indispensable?

Several times this season John Buck’s fast start fueled speculation that with Travis d’Arnaud’s promotion the Mets might deal him at the trade deadline.

After all, who doesn’t want a hot-hitting catcher who calls a crisp game behind the plate? Most every team would and that includes the Mets, who, along with Buck exceeded early expectations.

BUCK: Proving very valuable.

BUCK: Proving very valuable.

It’s not as if Buck has gone from trade bait to indispensable, but he isn’t going anywhere any time soon. And, that has more to do than with d’Arnaud’s broken foot that will keep him out for two months. Buck is simply the Mets’ best offensive weapon and has been solid behind the plate, drawing raves from Matt Harvey and Jon Niese.

However, manager Terry Collins said it best: “John Buck seems to be in the middle of everything that’s good right now.’’

Buck homered in the Mets’ 2-0 victory over Washington Sunday, a comprehensive display of the fastest start of his career. There was the homer, giving him seven and a league-high 22 RBI, but also his defense and the game he called for Dillon Gee.

The Mets’ pride is their young pitchers, and Buck could be the same steading influence Jerry Grote once was to Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack.

Harvey has been the darling at 4-0 and a sub-1.00 ERA, swears by Buck. There’s no way the Mets break up that duo.

Harvey said he’s shaken off Buck maybe five or six times this year ins describing the same instinctual chemistry a quarterback would have with his best receiver.

“He already knows what’s coming,’’ Harvey said. “It’s really fun every time I take the mound and see him back there. It’s just positive energy. It’s more fuel.’’

It’s not luck or coincidence that has Buck putting down the correct fingers. It’s the culmination of hard work spent in the first nine years of his career. He keeps copious notes on his pitchers and opposing hitters, and they complement the game plan drawn up by pitching coach Dan Warthen.

On the day of the game Buck meets early with Warthen and the pitcher to go over the scouting reports and film. Later, he’ll meet with the pitcher privately. However, he talks to all the pitchers throughout the week, not just on the days they start. The communication is constantly flowing.

Harvey said Buck’s preparation is inspirational to the point where he’ll incorporate what he’s learned throughout his career.

“He knows what the hitters are going to do,’’ said Harvey. “The studying that he does and the video that he watches and the plan that he comes up with for each individual pitcher, it’s something that I’m learning still. And it’s awesome.’’

Buck and d’Arnaud’s lockers were side-by-side in spring training, and it wasn’t by accident, either.

“I like to pick his brain,’’ d’Arnaud said this spring. “He’s very easy to talk with and I’ve learned a lot from being around him.’’

Buck said in spring training he understood he was brought here to help d’Arnaud and that attitude hasn’t changed despite the latter’s injury. It’s not as if when he heard the news he moved out of his apartment and bought a house.

“My stance is still the same,’’ Buck said. “I truly feel if I do good, then he does good. I’ve been around too much to take positive thoughts out of something bad happening to someone else. … Until someone tells me otherwise, I’ll just keep going about my business.’’

Nobody will be telling Buck otherwise any time soon.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Apr 22

Collins Won’t Bat Duda Cleanup

lucas duda

After last night’s invigorating 2-0 shutout victory over the Nationals. Terry Collins said  he would not move Lucas Duda from the No. 6 slot to the cleanup spot in the batting order.

Despite Ike Davis’ Feats of Strength (I thought Festivus was in December) on Friday night when he and Duda each slugged a pair of home runs, the first baseman has gone 0-for-8 with four more strikeouts since, and continues to kill the team batting cleanup and posting a .167/.214/.323 slash in 60 at-bats. To put that into perspective, Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill and Jon Niese all have better slugging percentages. Get the picture? He’s even worse against lefthanded pitching which begs the question, when will the Mets realize he’s just a platoon player at best?

Back to Duda, remember all through spring and even just last week I spoke about what a huge role confidence is playing in the left fielder’s metamorphosis?

Here is what I wrote on Saturday:

Duda has been a revelation so far even though it’s still early. Knowing that Duda is so sensitive and shies away from any interview requests, I believe that he’s too tough on himself. He lacks the confidence that a big guy like himself should have. Once he starts to taste a little of that confidence, it takes a hold of him and his play improves dramatically.

We got to see him and spoke to Wally Backman about him last season after he was demoted. Duda was isolated from his teammates and would sit and sulk before and after games. He took the demotion hard and for a guy who had little confidence in himself to begin with, the fact that the team lost confidence him too sent him reeling.

However something happened this winter. When he hurt himself lifting furniture, it led to him reporting to St. Lucie a month early to work exclusively with Dave Hudgens. 30 days of exclusive one-on-one training and confidence boosting. When camp officially broke, Duda was transformed and bursting with confidence again. Duda was doing interviews, laughing, and having fun. He has reinvented himself and I credit the Mets hitting coach for what we are seeing so far.

Here is what Terry Collins had to say about Duda after the game:

“This game is all about confidence,” Collins said. “Lucas Duda is feeling pretty good. I don’t want to change that. One thing I don’t want to do right now is put him in a situation where he thinks he’s got to do more than he’s doing at this particular moment.

Collins gets it. Yes, Duda is leading the league with a .475 on-base percentage. And yes, his .659 slugging percentage is second only to John Buck. And yes, his 1.135 OPS leads the Mets. If it were anyone else, but Duda I’d say put him in the cleanup spot. But it is Duda, and we should leave well enough alone – at least for the time being. Let him keep building up that confidence, and let’s check back at the end of May.

Apr 19

Matt Harvey Ready To Go, Mets Starting Lineup

Matt Harvey doesn’t have to be reminded about tonight’s match-up with the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg.

Harvey has always been intense, and he gave manager Terry Collins a preview prior to batting practice.

“He was a little grouchy,’’ Collins said this afternoon. “He’s usually not quite that grouchy. When your manager walks up to you and the first thing you want to do is bite his head off, you’re a little bit on the edge.

“I tried to rein him down a little bit, because he’s sky-high at the moment. But I know he’s ready for it. I know he’s excited about it. He’s got a huge challenge on his hands.’’

Collins has an inkling how Harvey might respond tonight, and like everybody else in Citi Field tonight said he’s anxious because of the marquee match-up. Tonight is Harvey’s 14th major league start, so it is premature to be dusting off any shelves in Cooperstown.

However, there is an aura about him that prompts Collins to call him special.

“This is when the real good players step up,’’ Collins said. “He’s still a young, young player yet. And we have to understand what he’s accomplished thus far is certainly outstanding, but he’s still a young guy.’’

What Harvey has accomplished and what he wants to accomplish are two different things. Harvey doesn’t just want to be good, he wants to be the best.

“He wants to be the best that there is in the game,” Collins said. “The last time I ever heard someone say that was [Barry] Bonds. So it was a pretty big statement, I thought. All he’s done thus far is backed it up.’’

METS MUSINGS: Collins said Triple-A catcher Travis d’Arnaud won’t need surgery on his fractured left foot, but will be in a boot. Collins said d’Arnaud could be out for up to eight weeks.

Here’s tonight’s lineup against Strasburg:

Jordany Valdespin, CF: Making his sixth start as the leadoff hitter. Is batting .409 in that position.

Daniel Murphy, 2B: Is tied for the NL lead with seven doubles and is tenth in average at .352.

David Wright, 3B: Is third in the league with 14 RBI, including ten in his last five games.

Ike Davis, 1B: Takes a .146 average and three RBI into the game.

John Buck, C: Hitting .300 with six homers and 19 RBI, but has only two hits in his last 13 at-bats.

Marlon Byrd, RF: Has hit in four straight games, going 5-for-17 with six RBI.

Ruben Tejada, SS: Has hit in seven of his last nine games to raise average to .250. Leads the majors with six errors.

Matt Harvey, RHP: Was named NL Player of the Week for April 8-14.

Apr 15

Interesting Week Facing Mets

Not surprisingly, yesterday’s game at Minnesota was bagged by the weather, which doesn’t figure to be much better in Colorado this week.

I wrote last week Matt Harvey could pitch against Stephen Strasburg in the first game of the Washington series, and depending on possible postponements it could still pan out that way.

GEE: Goes tonight against Rockies.

GEE: Goes tonight against Rockies.

The Mets will have the back end of their rotation in the first three games of the Colorado series, with Dillon Gee, Aaron Laffey and Jeremy starting in the Coors Field bandbox. Who doesn’t believe the bullpen will get a lot of work?

Jon Niese is scheduled to start Thursday afternoon, where the temperatures could be in the teens.

It’s hard to hit in the cold, but might be more difficult to pitch as the ball is difficult to grip and the pitchers’ command is usually off.

In looking at the Rockies series, there are several things in addition to the Mets’ bullpen we should be curious in seeing:

* There’s the sizzling John Buck, who needed yesterday’s day off. Buck is the first player in history with 19 RBI in his first ten games with a new team. Buck is also one of four players with 19 RBI in his team’s first ten games, joining Lou Gehrig (1927 Yankees), Manny Ramirez (1999 Indians) and Chris Davis (this year’s Orioles).

Buck’s streak of homers in four straight games was snapped, but his six homers is more than Mets catchers hit last year (five).

* Marlon Byrd went deep yesterday to give the Mets a franchise-record 11 straight games with a homer to start a season. It’s the longest since the Rays homered in 12 straight in 2007.

* Whether Jordany Valdespin hits leadoff tonight. Despite their winning record, the Mets have not found a consistent leadoff hitter among the four they have used. Like him or not, Valdespin does generate a buzz.

* How long will Ike Davis’ slump last? He’s hitting .128 with a .244 on-base and .205 slugging percentage.  Coors Field was built to end slumps. Of all Davis’ poor numbers, 12 strikeouts and just five hits might be the most stunning.

* Will Daniel Murphy continue to sizzle? He’s hitting .381 with hits in seven of his last eight games. Murphy has 16 hits, with eight going for extra bases. He has a .413 on-base percentage and .690 slugging percentage.

* Will David Wright get his first homer? Coors Field has always been kind to Wright. He is a lifetime .385 hitter with a .461 on-base percentage, eight homers and 33 RBI in 29 games in the Rocky Mountains. In comparison, he has 14 homers and 35 RBI in 74 games at Turner Field, and seven homers and 41 RBI in 58 games at the Marlins’ old park.

The Mets return home Friday to start a three-game series with the suddenly vulnerable Nationals this weekend.

Apr 13

Mets Notes: Frigid Temps Fire Up Mets Offense

OK, I was wrong, the Mets should play in 30-degree weather all time, where their record in those conditions is probably better than that of the Jets.

It was a wild game last night and I wouldn’t be surprised if SNY’s ratings spiked for those who tuned in to watch the train wreck of playing in Antarctica, where the only things missing were penguins and Kate Upton frolicking on top of the dugouts between innings.

I admit, the weather made me curious, but that went away when it became apparent they weren’t going to call it. Most likely they played on because the forecast for Sunday is rain all day.

Several things caught my attention last night, among them:

* How does Jon Niese feel today? When it is hard to grip the ball pitchers tend to compensate by overthrowing which taxes the arm. He said he didn’t have a good grip and his command was off. We’ll see.

* The Mets played well because they were warmed by the fire that is John Buck. He’s on a historic start. He will catch Matt Harvey this afternoon, count on it. However, if they play Sunday he should DH as to rest him while keeping his bat in the lineup.

* Speaking of lineups, Jordany Valdespin needs to play until he cools off. Never mind the left-hander today, keep him in there and give him a chance to stay in a groove. Valdespin has never been a full-time player. It’s time to find out.

* Ike Davis doesn’t have to look any further than Lucas Duda for an example of what he should be doing at the plate. Duda hasn’t been Ted Williams, but lately he’s about patience and waiting for his pitch. Take the walks, cut the strikeouts, and you’ll make the pitcher come to you. If it was easy, everybody could do it. Duda is and Davis isn’t.

* Ruben Tejada had a few gems in the field, and a play, well, not so good. However, he’s a talented glove who’ll eventually settle into a good fielding zone.

* Scott Atchison, who had a bad elbow, never should have pitched last night. He didn’t need that kind of work. Let’s keep an eye on him, too.

* David Wright entered the game in a slump and ended it hot. Still no homers, but he drove the ball and came through with runners on base. That had been missing.

* Bad news about Jose Reyes, who severely sprained his ankle and could be out for up to three months. The karma hasn’t been kind to Reyes since leaving the Mets.

The Mets played a terrific game under horrible conditions. The best sign is they kept focus and didn’t allow the conditions to beat them. It definitely was something they can build off of.

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