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Frustrated, slumping Travis d'Arnaud optioned to Las Vegas

Travis d'Arnaud walks back the dugout after striking

Travis d'Arnaud walks back the dugout after striking out in the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on Thursday, Apr. 3, 2014. Credit: Jim McIsaac

In R.A. Dickey, the Mets possessed the rarest of commodities, a reigning Cy Young Award winner who also was an ideal candidate to be traded. In search of young talent in the winter of 2012, the Mets set about extracting the maximum return.

As they sorted through their options, they kept circling back to one. Of all the teams that had expressed interest in Dickey's services, only the Blue Jays were willing to part with a top-flight catching prospect, the kind of player that has become just as precious a resource as young pitching.

In Travis d'Arnaud, the Mets saw a franchise catcher, a cornerstone piece from which to build a foundation for sustained success.

These remain the expectations for d'Arnaud, who has fallen well short of meeting them -- and who was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas after Saturday night's game. Catcher Taylor Teagarden replaced him on the Mets' roster.

D'Arnaud, 25, finds himself mired in a tailspin. His average fell to .180 after Friday night's 4-2 loss to the Giants. He was 0-for-3, including a pop-up and a pair of double-play balls.

"I've set a higher standard for myself," d'Arnaud said after the game. "This is unacceptable."

Manager Terry Collins has preached patience with d'Arnaud, who has been victimized by nagging injuries that have stunted his development. The latest was a concussion sustained last month. It was the third of his career.

Collins tried to alleviate the pressure on d'Arnaud, who is hitting .189 in 227 at-bats since making his major-league debut late last season.

"When we start saying he's got to be the guy who's got to carry us offensively, we've got problems," Collins said. "That is not where the problems lie, that he's not hitting."

Yet with the expectations that have surrounded him, d'Arnaud's struggles have been conspicuous. Backup catcher Anthony Recker (.200) also has struggled at the plate and never has proved himself as an everyday player. Catching prospect Kevin Plawecki is in the midst of a breakout season, but he's still far from being major league-ready at Double-A Binghamton.

With no viable alternatives on the roster or at Triple-A Las Vegas, d'Arnaud's trial by fire might continue uninterrupted. Though his struggles have triggered chatter within the organization about what comes next, it appears the lack of other choices and d'Arnaud's defensive work will buy him more time to settle in.

Nevertheless, it has created an uncomfortable situation for the Mets. They now must find a way to bolster d'Arnaud's confidence even as he navigates the steep learning curve that comes with breaking into the major leagues.

"He's a confident kid," Collins said. "He certainly believes he's going to hit because it seems that he always had. That was certainly the tag when he came here."

After his latest hitless performance, d'Arnaud did not hide from his own failings.

"I'm frustrated with myself right now," he said. 'I've got some work to do. That's pretty much it."

Since returning from the concussion that landed him on the disabled list, d'Arnaud is 3-for-26 with one unintentional walk (with the pitcher hitting behind him, he's been given four free passes).

One National League talent evaluator wondered if d'Arnaud has been affected by his concussions. The scout also noted that d'Arnaud "still has plenty of bat speed and power for the position" and that "25 is still young in catcher years."

"He's still learning how to catch and hit," the scout said. "The big leagues is a tough place to develop, and he's trying to develop both . . . Minors or majors, he just needs to stay on the field to get ABs."

After Friday night's game, d'Arnaud acknowledged that he's been pressing, a common theme throughout the Mets. He insisted he must "trust in the process," though he also said trust has been tough to come by lately, especially with his average dipping well below the Mendoza Line.

"Every day I show up, I'm ready to play. I've just got to battle through this and stay positive," d'Arnaud said. "I've been through this before. It's just frustrating. Like I said, I've got to do better than this. This is unacceptable."

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