PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
At that moment, with the adrenaline flowing, and a dangerous bat lurking at the plate, Matt Harvey needed just one thing from his catcher. He wanted the green light to bust the hitter inside with a four-seam fastball.
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"And he was calling for everything but that," Harvey said after the first time he worked with catcher Travis d'Arnaud.
So it went several times that afternoon, with d'Arnaud signaling for a pitch and Harvey shaking his head in disapproval. But in the month that has passed since that day, the Mets already have sensed a difference in their young catcher.
"In three starts with him, it's almost like we've been with each other for a couple of years," Harvey said Monday after a smooth outing with d'Arnaud. "I couldn't say anything better about him learning each pitcher."
With d'Arnaud, who they consider their catcher of the future, the Mets have adopted a policy of total immersion.
Team officials insist that the 24-year-old will begin the season at Triple-A Las Vegas.
Nevertheless, d'Arnaud remains in major-league camp long after most of the team's top prospects have been cut, a surprising development because it could cost the Mets millions of dollars down the road. By rule, if d'Arnaud is injured in camp and can't begin the season, he would begin gaining major-league service time.
For the Mets, that means d'Arnaud would qualify for salary arbitration one year earlier. Nevertheless, general manager Sandy Alderson said he was comfortable with the risk.
"What he's gaining with additional time in major-league camp, whether he makes the team or not, is familiarity with our pitching at the major-league level," Alderson said after watching d'Arnaud block the plate Monday. "He's getting exposure to those that will be in our pen. So the more familiarity he has with our pitching staff, the better off he will be when he comes back if he doesn't make the team."
Whether it's dealing with pitchers or handling the scrutiny that comes with playing in New York, manager Terry Collins said the extra time in camp will eventually serve d'Arnaud well.
"When you guys walk in camp and you've got 15 writers sitting around here all day long, it's intimidating," Collins said. "He's going to have to get used to it because he's going to be in the big leagues for a long time."
Any day now, d'Arnaud will be sent to minor-league camp. But the Mets believe that the lessons in spring training will ease the learning curve once d'Arnaud reaches the big leagues.
"I'm new here so I'm just trying to make a good impression, trying to learn everybody and befriend everybody," said d'Arnaud, the Mets' main return for trading Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays. "Fortunately for me, everybody has welcomed me with open arms, so it's been a pretty easy transition for me."
His promotion could come as soon as June, when the Mets can call up d'Arnaud without giving him an extra year of salary arbitration. But until then, the Mets have poured their energy into preparing him for a smooth transition.
"He's better than a lot of catchers defensively right now, but he could still get better," said Mets bench coach Bob Geren, a former big-league catcher. "There's things he can improve on. But he's learning, he's working hard, and he's getting better every time I see him."
During camp, Geren has worked extensively with d'Arnaud on his fundamentals. Before games, he has involved the young catcher in planning meetings with pitching coach Dan Warthen. And between innings, Geren and d'Arnaud often confer about in-game situations.
For the Mets, the immersion was by design.
"He's learning our staff," Geren said. "He's gaining a lot of respect from our pitchers. He's facing major-league pitching on the offensive side. He's working with the major-league hitting coach. It's a great benefit. I'm glad he's here."