Lucas Duda reports to Mets lighter, faster

Lucas Duda is congratulated by teammates after hitting

Lucas Duda is congratulated by teammates after hitting a third-inning home run against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. (Sept. 4, 2013) (Credit: Getty)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - At a glance, little appears different about Mets first baseman Lucas Duda.

He spent roughly eight weeks this offseason in Michigan, attending a camp designed to improve his nutrition and overall fitness. He shed close to 10 pounds, bringing him down to 255, his listed weight.

"I'm still a big guy," the 6-4 Duda said. "I'm going to be a big guy. That's just how I am."

Nevertheless, despite what the scale reports, Duda senses a difference in his body.

"I feel faster," he said yesterday before joining some of his Mets teammates for voluntary workouts before the official start of spring training. "I don't know if you guys can tell or whatever, but we'll see. But I feel better. I just feel more coordinated . . . I feel looser in my hips. I can rotate them a little bit better."

Little can be gleaned from participating in fielding drills, as Duda did Wednesday. And the changes can hardly be spotted during sessions in the batting cage. But the first baseman remains hopeful that his offseason efforts will translate when it counts -- during games in the regular season.

"I hope it does," Duda said. "Who knows if it does or doesn't. We'll see. But I feel much better and I'm looking forward to the season."

Certainly, Duda will take every advantage he can get. His spring training will be spent competing with Ike Davis for the starting job at first base.

It's a mess the Mets hoped to avoid, which is why both ended up on the offseason trading block. But the Mets couldn't find a trade partner, leaving Davis and Duda to duke it out. The loser of the competition may be demoted or traded. And if it's Duda, he may be forced to once again attempt playing the outfield, where he has struggled in each of the last two seasons.

"They said I might play a little outfield, but I'm up for anything," said Duda, who played down any drama surrounding his looming competition with Davis. "Whatever's going to help the team."

Through the new conditioning program, Duda cut out cookies and candy, while putting the emphasis on better food choices. Aside from strength building exercises, he also worked on his running technique in hopes of increasing his speed.

But as a hitter, Duda intends to stick with his approach, which has been criticized by some as being too passive. In 100 games last season, Duda hit .223 with 15 homers and 33 RBIs, totals that some in the organization believe would be enhanced with a more aggressive approach.

Nevertheless, Duda's approach also has yielded solid results. While the Mets struggled as a whole to reach base, Duda proved to be an exception. He posted a healthy .352 on-base percentage, finishing second behind David Wright for the team lead.

"The number one thing will probably be to stay healthy," said Duda, who missed seven weeks last year with a strained intercostal muscle. "I feel like if I stay healthy I can put some numbers up. As far as approach, I'm just going to stay myself. I'm a guy that likes to take his walks and I'm going to continue to do that."

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