ATLANTA — After he stumbled through his first three weeks in the major leagues, Mets first baseman Dominic Smith’s recent home-run binge has shown that he is capable of making adjustments.
Still, Smith understands that he has work to do as the season comes to a close and the Mets begin to determine how the 22-year-old prospect fits into their plans for 2018.
“I want to show them I can play and be the first baseman for them for years to come,” he said yesterday before going 1-for-3 in the Mets’ 3-2 loss to the Braves.
Since debuting Aug. 11, Smith leads the Mets in RBIs (20) and homers (seven). He has homered in three of his last five games and is hitting .344 with 14 RBIs with runners in scoring position. It’s the kind of run-producing ability that the Mets need to see at first base, where offense is paramount.
“I just think what Dom’s doing right now, his confidence is soaring,” manager Terry Collins said. “He’s not afraid to take a big, healthy swing at a pitch instead of just trying to make contact and hit a line drive someplace.”
Team officials are closely watching how Smith evolves at the plate. Unlike fellow prospect Amed Rosario, he is not yet viewed as a lock for the 2018 Opening Day roster. Team officials are wary about leaning too heavily on two inexperienced players to solidify the infield.
But after putting up a .164/.197/.313 slash line in his first 20 games, Smith has helped his case with a torrid September. In the next 13 games, he had a .298/.365/.617 slash line.
Scouts have questioned whether he will ever be more than a gap-to-gap threat, but the 2013 first-round pick has shown signs that he can be a power hitter. “Just try to hit the ball hard and hit it in the air; good things will happen,” he said.
At Triple-A Las Vegas, the lefthanded-hitting Smith worked on getting more balls in the air, a trend that has accompanied a home run spike that has altered the landscape throughout baseball. Entering last night, 40 percent of his fly balls in September had gone for homers. During his hot streak, he has pulled the ball at a higher rate, a function of an adjustment that has put him in better position to hammer mistakes, particularly on breaking pitches.
“I’m just doing stuff with pitches that I’m getting,” Smith said. “I can’t control where they pitch it. But I want to make sure that when they do put it in spots that I can pull it, that it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right pitch, instead of rolling over a pitch away or something like that.”
Smith has maintained an ability to hit to the opposite field with some pop, as he did in the fourth inning last night, when he laced an RBI double to left to knock in the go-ahead run.
Said Collins: “I have a lot of confidence in him right now that he’s going to do some damage.”
Notes & quotes: Righthander Noah Syndergaard had no issues after Thursday’s bullpen session. He could rejoin the team for an abbreviated outing or throw one more bullpen session. “Make no mistake, when he pitches, there’s not going to be a lot of pitches thrown,” Collins said. “This is a process of making sure we know he’s going to be OK and he knows that he is OK.” . . . Rafael Montero allowed three runs and seven hits in 4 2⁄3 innings as the Mets dropped their fifth in a row. Before Montero’s respectable effort, Mets pitchers had allowed 49 runs in their previous four games . . . Rosario (tight left hip flexor) and Travis d’Arnaud (twisted right knee) were available but did not play . . . Reliever Erik Goeddel rejoined the Mets after treatment for a nerve issue that caused dizziness and blurred vision. He remains day-to-day.