Two wins against the Pirates and the Mets feel better about themselves

By Rich Mancuso

 They embark on their longest road trip of the season, 11-games to Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco after a 5-0 win at Citi Field Wednesday afternoon. The New York Mets though, after a tumultuous week are feeling better about themselves after taking two of three from the Pirates

And they should after Bartolo Colon pitched the best game of his season, also getting support with two home runs from David Wright and Lucas Duda. That situational hitting and power that was conspicuous, something that got hitting Coach Dave Hudgens fired, coincidental or not, came against the mediocre Pirates.

Yes, the Pirates, a team that does not resemble the one that returned to the post season last year, could have been a perfect remedy for the Mets. However, when a team struggling to score runs, as the Mets are, gets hitting to support their starting pitcher, maybe is it a coincidence that a new hitting coach makes a difference?

Two wins under new hitting coach Lamar Johnson, can’t determine his impact. The Mets don’t have a nucleus of players that hit for power, and their anemic averages at the plate certainly led to many questions this week about the makeup of a roster that was put in place by the GM Sandy Alderson.

But, this could be a start to get respectable, or is it? There still remains the prevailing attitude that the Mets won’t always hit the home run ball, more so, as they did at home. They are much better winning games on the road and that begins Thursday night with five games against the Phillies.

“I didn't expect anybody to kind of hang their heads about it," David Wright said about the change from Hudgens to Johnson. "Hopefully, the transition to “LJ” is going to be a smooth one. He's off to a good start."

Wright hit his fourth home run in the sixth inning off a 2-2 pitch from the Pirates’ Charlie Morton to the Party City Deck in left-center. He also made two throwing errors, but that did not matter because all of his home runs this season have come at home. So, there has to be more to this stigma about this Mets team not being able to hit the home run ball at spacious Citi Field.  

The Mets improved to 13-17 at home. More importantly, taking the series against Pittsburgh it was their first back-to-back victories at home since a three-game streak from April 23-25. They won their first series at home in the month of May and play 25 of their next 33 on the road until July 4.

“We’ve played pretty good on the road so we’re looking forward to it,” commented Duda who hit his team leading seventh home run to right-center in the eighth inning. That widened the gap also, something that made it easier to secure the second straight win for starter Bartolo Colon (4-5).

Duda did not have much to say, he rarely does about his struggles at the plate. But, when he gets hold of one, as he did against Bryan Morris, it has Mets fans and the manager Terry Collins commenting about his consistency. Duda has always been the power hitter the Mets hoped for and six of his home runs have been hit at Citi Field.

Again, leaving town the way they did, could only be a confidence builder for the struggling Mets. Duda getting that home run, also with another strikeout, will make one forget about his .236 struggles and sometimes difficulty handling plays at first base though he is a much better hitter on the road.

“I feel for those guys but we have our own struggles here and are confident we can get it going,” Ike Davis said in the visitor’s clubhouse. The former Met enjoyed his return to Citi Field and went 0-for-4, stranding three on base.

Davis was also strikeout 2,000 of Colon’s career when he got caught looking in the sixth inning, one of nine the right-hander had, of which seven were looking. At 41- years of age, he hit the corners and according to Davis, that makes the veteran tougher to hit.

“He knows where it is going and the fastball at 90 makes him tougher to hit,” commented Davis. Colon also became the 70th pitcher to hit the milestone in strikeouts and the third active that includes the Yankees’ CC Sabathia and the Phillies’ A.J. Burnett.

 After 121 pitches, the most he has thrown in a decade, Collins pulled Colon.  He said through an interpreter, “I don’t get tired. I just want to keep going.” And with a taxed bullpen, Collins was more than pleased to get the effort.

"Bartolo's just a different animal,” Collins said. "He just makes his pitch. He doesn't care how many he's thrown.  I look at the swings. There’s no real pitch count with him. The most impressive thing is he hung in there and makes his pitches…when he only pitches 16 strikes that’s his game. This could be a place as we get to the summer that we keep him on schedule in the rotation.”

He added, “Bartolo's the perfect guy for here. He moves it from side to side, and keeps the ball in the middle of the field."

And with a pen that needs some rest, Collins was down a couple of guys. He has possibly found the answer for the backend with the departures of Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde who were ineffective. Enter the young and exciting arms that are a positive of this Mets team, something also that came of the 4-5 homestand against the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Pirates.

Jennry Mejia and Jeurys Familia recorded six outs in two games, including the five-out save by Mejia Tuesday night.  There is also Vic Black who was recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas that contributed to the effort prior to Mejia coming in.

Collins commented about Familia, "We've reached the point that he has got to be in the back end. He's got to be a late-inning guy." Familia got the save after coming in the eighth inning and retiring Davis with the one out and the tying run on base.

Commented Familia, “My confidence is better….I have the ability to throw strikes.” And he did, with 15 of his 19 pitches going for strikes.

So, things got a little better after a tough week and the Duda home run was a big cushion. Holding the Pirates hitless in seven at bats with runners in scoring position was another positive. Again, consistency is the key here and there is no telling if the success of the last two games will carry to Philadelphia.

Ask Collins and he remains the ever optimistic leader. “Hopefully this gets Lucas going a little bit. It was 3-0 till we got the homer. The timing of it, these, type of home runs can really spring you forward.”

But it is not just Duda. It is the entire lineup, including Curtis Granderson who had some good at bats the past few games, and also Daniel Murphy. No mention of Chris Young who remains in a struggle, the one-year $ 7 million dollar off-season free agent acquisition who shows no signs of improving on that anemic .196 average.

 “Keep working hard and stay positive,” Ruben Tejada said. The shortstop says he does not make the decision of staying in the lineup as Collins also goes with Wilmer Flores. But, Collins has always been in his corner and Tejada resembled the player of 2012 hitting to right-center and making some web gems in the infield in the Pirates series.

Time will tell as the Mets leave town. The coaching shakeup and questions of situational hitting were an afterthought. Of course, the Mets won a series at home and everyone for the moment is content.   

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