It is the other names, Neil Walker and Michael Conforto that have quickly done the job for the New York Mets this past week, and with the injury to Yoenis Cespedes manager Terry Collins has that well balanced lineup in tact. Cespedes is expected back in the lineup Friday night when New York begins a three game series with the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field.
As for Wednesday night, it was Walker and Conforto that propelled the Mets to their season high sixth straight win, 5-2 and three game series sweep over the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field. Walker, with a solo home run in the third inning, his ninth, tied a franchise record of home runs in the month of April.
They knew Walker would offer some punch in the lineup, but not at this juncture of the season and he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates to tighten up a middle of the infield that was prone to making mistakes during their 2015 NL championship season. The Mets also knew that Conforto, their first round draft pick of 2014, would bring that added punch to the lineup.
But Conforto has matured quickly with potential of being the new franchise player in the Mets clubhouse. It’s at a point of being compared to a young Don Mattingly, the Yankees all-star player who did amazing things across town in the Bronx. There is that similarity of finding the right pitch and the smooth swing that is producing hits and driving in runs.
Wednesday evening, as he has done so often since his arrival, Conforto came up big driving in two runs that helped Matt Harvey (2-3) get his first win of the season. He has reached base safely in in a career high-tying 15 straight games dating to April 10th, hitting .378 with 10 runs scored, seven doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI.
And he has become a good opposite field hitter with a quick bat. The two-run double to left center in the sixth inning showed how quickly the 23-year old has matured, added to the fact that Conforto has less than 100 games under his belt.
He is the type of player the Mets expected, but not at this stage of his career. There was no time at Triple -A Las Vegas, and the immediate jump to the big leagues from Double-A Binghamton last July 24th which was part of the resurgence of a Mets offense that advanced to the World Series.
But when you hear the Conforto name as being the next franchise player, the successor to David Wright, there is every reason to see this becoming a reality. Wright had some big shoes to fill, so did the Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, though Conforto is not at that stage of being asked if he is indeed headed to be that franchise player.
“With Cespedes out of the lineup right now we are getting big hits when we need it,” Collins said. Curtis Granderson had the night off after starting 19 straight games to begin the season and with Cespedes out with a bruised leg, Conforto in the three hole may have had some extra pressure.
“Obviously right now we’re riding Neil and Conforto real hard.” Collins said. We know when Cespedes is in the lineup he’s a huge piece.”
But what makes Conforto score points right now is that patience and the ability to not get frustrated when he fails to come through in the clutch. That one hit that drove in two runs came after a frustrating three previous at bats that included a strikeout in the first inning. With Alejandro De Aza on second and the Mets trailing 1-0, Conforto struck out looking at a nasty curve.
Said Collins, “He doesn’t seem to get rattled. He’s not shocked what he’s been placed into here. The older guys keep him calm… he’s not overwhelmed.” In other words, and as Collins says, Conforto will not let the pressure get to him and will be that type of player.
And Conforto has been in pressure situations, Not many have joined the big club from Double A and have a major role in the World Series. That experience last October, as Conforto says, was a major part of dealing with pressure situations at the plate.
“It was definitely frustrating the first three at bats,” he said when it came to his at bats Wednesday night and not producing. “That’s part of the game. You have to ride the roller coaster and come up with the same mentality all the time and try and get the right pitch to hit.”
He added: “I always felt like in those situations , I felt I could come through and thrived on myself never to get myself down how I was playing.” Conforto said his teammates are always picking him up when he fails to produce, but the failures are not many and that is what is making him look like the potential franchise player.
So without Cespedes for the moment, and with Travis d’Arnaud on the disabled list with a bad shoulder, a good part of that Mets offense was diminished. But the Mets continued to produce Wednesday night with the home run ball that continued off the bat of Walker, with 16 RBI this month, and Conforto came up with a big hit.
And it is obvious, the Mets after their first 20 games are developing into this good team that is expected to play baseball deep again into October. Collins knows he has the starting pitching, an effective bullpen and depth off the bench. All 25 guys are contributing and the manager is not hesitant to make that point.
As for Conforto, he says it more of his approach at the plate and not mental. But we all know that the makings of a franchise player to be comes from a mentality of the player.