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Bartolo Colon presents crafty, sizable challenge to Mets

Braves starting pitcher Bartolo Colon in the outfield

Braves starting pitcher Bartolo Colon in the outfield during batting practice at Citi Field for the Mets' home opener on Monday, April 3, 2017. Colon became a cult hero while with the Mets from 2014-2016. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Mets won’t need a scouting report to prepare for the challenge they face on Wednesday night, when Bartolo Colon returns to Citi Field for the first time as a member of the Braves.

“He’s a wonderful guy,” first baseman Lucas Duda said. “It’s going to be tough. He’s got great stuff. It will be another battle.”

On one level, the reunion should bring an element of fun. From his famously plumber-esque physique, to his helmet-dislodging swings, Colon turned himself into a cult hero in Flushing and within the Mets clubhouse before signing a one-year, $12.5-million contract with Atlanta.

This was apparent on Opening Day. Though the Braves also employ former Mets such as Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, it was the 43-year-old Colon who received an ovation as if he were still with the Mets.

The veteran righty went 44-34 with a 3.90 ERA from 2014 to 2016, further enhancing his reputation as a durable strike-throwing machine while also serving as a mentor to the Mets’ rising young aces.

Colon’s appearances at the plate also became appointment television. He hit just .083 but etched his place in franchise lore last season when he hit the first homer of his 20-year big- league career.

“It’s good to see he was received so well,” second baseman Neil Walker said. “He’s obviously a fan favorite here, and a favorite in the locker room. He meant as much as anybody on this team. But it certainly doesn’t mean we’ll try to take it easy on him. We’re going to try to do whatever we can to knock him out early.”

That might be easier said than done. Colon’s effectiveness into his 40s is predicated by the pinpoint command he possesses on his fastball. He will throw strikes. And when he’s on, they will be quality strikes, or pitches that don’t lend themselves to damage.

It should be a contrast in styles. While Colon forces opponents to be ready to swing, the Mets’ lineup strives to be selective, a mantra that is emphasized from the lowest levels of the minors all the way to the big leagues.

“You just always have to be ready,” rightfielder Jay Bruce said. “You’ve got to be ready. You can’t be passive. I think walks are . . . a byproduct of not doing something rather than actively trying to walk. I think if you take that approach, go up there and stick with the plan, it prepares you for really any pitcher.”

The Mets put that discipline to work on Opening Day. After Julio Teheran tossed six shutout innings, the Mets sprang to life in the seventh with six runs against four Braves relievers. Even without hitting a homer, the Mets turned a scoreless tie into a one-sided affair.

“That will set us apart as a lineup, if we can do that, because of the ability to hit home runs,” said Bruce, who worked a bases-loaded walk during the rally. “The more guys we can get on base, we can really do some damage very quickly. The ability to score runs quickly kind of makes us different.”

The biggest hit of the rally came from Duda. Though he has hit 30 homers in a season, the slugging first baseman is hitting seventh in this lineup. And it was from that spot where he drilled a bases-loaded double over the head of Braves centerfielder Ender Inciarte to turn Opening Day into a romp.

Said Duda: “It’s a testament to our lineup, the length and depth of it.”

Now, after three years of watching that lineup from the dugout, Colon finds himself charged with neutralizing it.

How Mets’ hitters have fared against Bartolo Colon:

H-ABHR

Jose Reyes5-120

Asdrubal Cabrera1-170

Yoenis Cespedes2-30

Curtis Granderson 4-132

Neil Walker3-101

Jay Bruce 1-51

Lucas Duda1-20

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