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Duda homers as Mets beat Nats, 3-1

Mets Lucas Duda gets ready to bat against

Mets Lucas Duda gets ready to bat against the Washington Nationals in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (Feb. 23, 2013) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets beat the Nationals 3-1 at Tradition Field on Saturday afternoon. A few things to know:

-- Left fielder Lucas Duda hit his fourth homer of the season, lining a 3-0 pitch in the seventh inning from the Nationals' Drew Storen into the berm in right field. The solo shot put the Mets ahead 2-1.

He's tied with Jordany Valdespin for the team lead, but perhaps more importantly, Duda looks more comfortable at the plate. Duda began the spring trying to limit almost all of the natural movement in his swing. But during camp, Mets coaches allowed Duda to bring some of the movement back.

They still prefer he limit his leg kick and quiet his hands, though Duda has enjoyed better results since adding some rhythm back into his swing. He's got six hits in his last 16 at-bats, including three home runs. Duda finished 2-for-3 to raise his average to .283.

"We've seen a lot of improvement," Mets manager Terry Collins said after the game. "He's still getting himself in better hitting position. You can tell he's got more confidence when he goes up there. He's taken some tough pitches."

-- Pitching prospect Rafael Montero showed why the Mets are excited about his future. The 22-year-old righty tossed 4 1/3 shutout innings before leaving for a reliever with two outs and a runner on in the fourth. Montero, who was summoned from minor-league camp to make the start, lowered his spring ERA to 2.08 in four appearances.

From Montero, Collins saw better fastball velocity, improved command of his breaking pitches, and the makings of a good changeup. Asked what he liked of the young righty, Collins said "pretty much everything."

Collins said that the club's minor league staff offered rave reviews about Montero, who some believe could be called up to the big leagues even before Sept. 1.

-- Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis struck out in his first Grapefruit League action since suffering a bone bruise in his left knee on March 3. Nieuwenhuis, who will likely begin the season in Triple-A Las Vegas, entered the game as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning. Before his injury, Nieuwenhuis had been a candidate to play in the outfield.

-- Lefty specialist Pedro Feliciano hit Roger Bernadina -- the only lefty he faced -- but got Danny Espinosa to bounce into a force to end the fifth. Jeurys Familia allowed just one hit in a scoreless sixth inning. Lefty specialist Josh Edgin loaded the bases twice but kept the damage to just one run in the seventh. Fellow lefty Robert Carson allowed a one-out double but kept the Nationals off the board.

Feliciano, Edgin and Carson are three of four candidates for two lefty specialist spots. Familia is battling with submariner Greg Burke for what appears to be the final spot for a righthander.

Feliciano's fastball has been clocked all spring in the low 80s but Collins played down concerns. "He has a feel for what he has to do to get guys out," Collins said.

-- Catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud delivered an RBI single in the eighth. D'Armaud's demotion to minor league camp is looming though he has made the most of his chance in big league camp. The single raised his spring average to .355.

-- Shortstop Ruben Tejada finished 0-for-2 with walk, dropping his spring average to .095.

-- Righty Brandon Lyon escaped a jam to slam the door in the ninth.

-- Collins said he would likely need until the final day of spring training to decide on several position battles. The Mets end Grapefruit League play next Saturday against the Orioles in Sarasota. "It will go up to that [date] too," Collins said. "Believe it."

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