Struggling Lucas Duda works on correcting swing
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The hulking figure worked alone. In this covered batting cage, out of sight of the paying fans nearby, he uncorked his massive swing over and over again. The crack of his bat echoed from the cage, audible through the cheers coming from the nearby stadium, where Monday night's game already had started.
Lucas Duda would rather have been under the lights of Tradition Field. Instead, he toiled under the harsh fluorescent glow of these batting cages, where he will spend at least two days untangling the mess that his swing has become.
"He's not quite ready," Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens said.
In two excruciating Grapefruit League games, Duda went 0-for-7 with six strikeouts, swinging hopelessly late at every fastball he faced.
His struggles should come as no surprise. Duda not only is overhauling his swing but is reeling from an offseason spent rehabbing a fractured right wrist.
Nevertheless, if the Mets hope to emerge as surprise contenders, they will need to improve upon last year's 139 homers, which ranked 11th in the National League. For that extra pop, they are banking on improvement from Duda, who hit 15 homers in 401 at-bats despite a brief demotion to Triple-A Buffalo.
Duda says his wrist is fine. But after spending all of camp making swing adjustments, all of them meant to capitalize on his power potential, he looks lost.
"I'm worrying more about my mechanics than seeing the ball and hitting the ball," he said.
Specifically, he rid himself of the hand-waggling that left him vulnerable to inconsistency. He also took away the double toe tap with his front foot that sometimes wrecked his timing.
A quieter swing, Duda hoped, would produce louder results. Instead, it has produced chaos.
While the Mets play games, Duda will spend the next two days on the back fields and in the batting cage, just as he did one day after striking out four times in one game.
"He's just not ready to hit," said manager Terry Collins, who looked on as Duda worked on a back field Monday. "He got a lot of reps today. We'll do it again tomorrow. And hopefully, we'll make some strides in a hurry."
A few hours before first pitch Monday night, with Hudgens watching closely, Duda took roughly 100 swings in a cage. After every couple of swings, Duda asked Hudgens for feedback, chatting with the coach before resuming his work.
From behind an L-screen, bullpen coach Ricky Bones threw practice pitches at Duda, who flashed his power with a few drives toward palm trees behind the rightfield wall.
"We're just trying to ramp up his workload a little bit, work on his timing," Hudgens said. "The timing's been off. He's been late. Kind of knew that would happen to him with the little adjustments he's making. Plus, he just hasn't hit."
Duda appeared to make progress during his session, hitting liners to all fields. But after a few more rounds of practice, Hudgens moved Bones closer to home plate, giving Duda much less time to react.
The pitches were supposed to replicate a real game. It worked too well. Suddenly, Duda's liners morphed into weak grounders, his bat still too slow to catch up.
"There's no need to panic. It's just two games," Duda said. "But obviously, there's work to be done."