Expectations weighed on the mind of Eric Young Jr.
The Mets had given him the opportunity to lead off. With the chance came a list of demands: to up his on-base percentage, to shorten his swing, to keep the ball on the ground. They were all designed to maximize his speed. But all they did was make him feel uncomfortable.
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"I was thinking too much,'' said Young, who slumped to start the season. "In the beginning, I was doing too many things to appease everybody instead of just going out there and playing baseball.''
Since then, Young's turnaround has been clear and convincing, giving the Mets the kind of table-setter that manager Terry Collins has long envisioned for his lineup.
"It's very encouraging,'' Collins said. "He tried some things early to try and make better contact and eliminate some strikeouts. He just felt uncomfortable. He finally got back to his regular swing and he's done a good job.''
In his five starts during the Mets' season-opening homestand, Young went 2-for-19 (.105) with a walk and a whopping nine strikeouts. He reached base only four times in his first 21 plate appearances, not nearly enough to leverage his legs. He didn't even attempt to steal a base, much less actually swipe one.
But on the team's recently completed road trip, Young emerged as the catalyst that the Mets have long hoped he could be. In nine games, Young went 12-for-36 (.333). He reached base at a .442 clip, which allowed him to take advantage of his speed. He stole nine bases in nine tries and scored 12 runs, many of his own creation.
He has been exactly what Collins envisioned when he insisted upon sticking with Young in the leadoff spot despite a relatively low on-base percentage.
Young credited Collins for pulling him aside just before the road trip for an intervention. After spending time worrying about keeping the ball on the ground and improving his bunting, Young was encouraged to focus on driving the ball.
"Don't be afraid to take a good swing at it,'' Collins said.
Young took the advice -- and ran with it.
The upswing comes at an opportune time for the Mets, who will begin a nine-game homestand Friday night against the Braves.
Throughout spring training, Young appeared to be in line to lose playing time in what had been a logjam in the outfield. But his surge has come at a time when centerfielder Juan Lagares has been lost to a hamstring injury for at least two weeks.
The Mets wrapped up their road trip with a 6-3 record, surviving the early-season test partly because Young kick-started what had been a stagnant offense.
"In any aspect of life, you get satisfaction when you actually know you're doing your job and helping those around you,'' Young said. "It's tremendous. You want to continue this momentum going into the next homestand.''