Jay Bruce spent his 30th birthday largely accepting plaudits for walking three times on Opening Day in the Mets’ 6-0 victory over the Braves. Lucas Duda won praise from Terry Collins for hitting a ball to the opposite field. Two lefthanded sluggers with something to prove didn’t need to produce home runs to have productive at-bats Monday.
Bruce, the player most likely to be traded after last season’s dismal performance for the Mets, had the sellout crowd on his side in the seventh inning when, with the bases loaded, he walked for the third straight time and produced the Mets’ third run. The sixth-place hitter heard something he hadn’t in a long time: cheers.
”Starting from scratch, kind of a clean slate is great,’’ Bruce said. “Obviously, I know my first month here last year wasn’t very good. It’s a new year.’’
Duda came up next and, on an 0-and-1 pitch by lefthander Eric O’Flaherty, drilled the ball over the head of Ender Inciarte for a three-run double to left-center. It was exactly what Collins wanted.
“That’s one of the things we saw in spring training,’’ he said, “Even though he was trying to protect himself from some of the injuries that have been caused by his willingness to work like crazy, you know he went back to kind of just taking some short swings to the baseball.
“I saw this guy in the minor leagues just do tremendous damage in left-centerfield. When he got here, that’s what made him so successful. Obviously, he’s a home run hitter, a power hitter and wants to pull the ball a little bit more so he can hit home runs. I just thought it was a huge hit for him.’’
Duda, who was limited to 40 games last season because of back problems, made an immediate statement.
“It’s a question: Do you be aggressive or do you kind of wait him out?’’ he said. “I just decided to be aggressive, and it paid off. Maybe if I didn’t play it the other way, it wouldn’t have worked out like that. So that’s how it went. I’ll get my hits how I can get them. If that’s the other way or down the line, it doesn’t matter . . . It’s always nice to contribute.’’
The Mets had eight walks and Bruce set the tone.
“I’m always looking to be more disciplined,’’ he said. “That’s something that I think everyone focuses on, but I think personally, that’s what can real ly let me improve as a player by really not doing anything other than swinging at less bad pitches. One, we just try to swing at strikes. I know that’s a universal thing you try and do, but I think that will set us apart as a lineup if we can do that because of the ability to hit home runs, hit the ball in the gap. The more guys we can get on base, we can really do some damage quickly.’’
Bruce has hit at least 30 homers four times in his career. Duda has done it once. Bruce said he never had been in a lineup in which players hitting sixth and seventh have had those numbers. “No, I haven’t,’’ he said. “I think it’s going to be a fun year because of that.’’