Lucas Duda shifted to first base; Gee loses gem on walk-off HR
ATLANTA - Terry Collins waited more than a week before finally moving Lucas Duda back to first base. And he waited another 3 hours, 43 minutes Monday night when a rainstorm delayed the start of the Mets' game against the Braves.
Once play finally began, Duda did his part to make the wait worthwhile, going 4-for-4 against the Braves. But his outburst wasn't enough to save the Mets from a cruel 2-1 defeat to the Braves, when Freddie Freeman's walk-off homer spoiled a stellar outing from Dillon Gee.
"That's a tough loss," said Gee, who tossed 81/3 shutout innings until making his mistake to Freeman.
In the seventh, Gee knocked in the Mets' only run. With the Braves chasing early in the count, Collins believed Gee deserved a chance to shoot for the shutout, even after allowing Justin Upton's single in the ninth.
"He pitched an outstanding game," Collins said. "You couldn't have asked for a better job."
Still, Gee (5-7), who allowed five hits, walking one and striking out six, had nothing to show for the effort, walking off the field past 1 a.m. just hours before coming back for a scheduled doubleheader.
Meanwhile, Duda tied a career high with four hits, then added a defensive gem when he stretched to pick Daniel Murphy's throw in the eighth. Duda's breakout evening came after the Mets finally reversed course, moving him from leftfield to first base to fill in for the recently demoted Ike Davis, a switch that Collins initially refused to consider.
Though Collins played down its consequences, the shift may signal that the Mets expect an extended absence by Davis, who had a .174 average with no homers in his first six games with Triple-A Las Vegas.
"You're allowed to change," Collins said before the game. "There's nothing etched in stone. You're allowed to make changes. You're allowed to make decisions that you think are in the best interest of the ballclub."
The lumbering Duda has been a defensive liability in the outfield the last two seasons. And the demotion of Davis on June 9 opened up what seemed to be a shift back to first base, Duda's natural position.
Instead, Collins reshuffled the rest of his lineup. He moved Murphy from second base to first and switched Jordany Valdespin from the bench to second base. But he kept Duda in left, partly to avoid giving the impression that Davis had been replaced for the long haul. However, Collins said Monday that he has spent the last week mulling over the move to first.
"Last week, we made decisions we thought were in the best interests of the club," Collins said. "They didn't work. As I ask our players to adjust, I've got to do the same thing. I've got to adjust."
The starting lineup for Monday night's scheduled series opener reflected the change in thinking.
Murphy returned to second base and Valdespin wound up back on the bench, partly because he slumped during his weeklong audition, with three hits in 23 at-bats.
In the outfield, Collins stuck with the hot bat, leaving Marlon Byrd in the lineup even against righthander Tim Hudson. Byrd is hitting .303 with five homers in June.
Meanwhile, he started both Juan Lagares and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, two players who the Mets hope to evaluate with more playing time. That meant shifting Duda to first base.
"Obviously, I know it's Ike's position," said Duda, who raised his average to .241 with 11 homers but only 23 RBIs. "I'm just kind of just there to help out the team any way I can.''