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Lucas Duda's next goal: Tormenting lefthanders

Lucas Duda swings during a spring training game

Lucas Duda swings during a spring training game on March 14, 2015 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: NY Mets

JUPITER, Fla. - Lucas Duda has made a habit of crushing narratives like belt-high fastballs, and swatting a career-best 30 home runs last season vaporized the one about being too insecure, too soft, to succeed in New York.

Now, with money on the table, Duda has his crosshairs fixed on the notion of lefthanded pitchers being Kryptonite. After showing progress this spring in that department, including three more hits off lefties in Sunday's 3-2 win over the Cardinals, Duda has just about retired this narrative in the midst of long-term extension talks with the Mets.

"The biggest thing with him is I think last year gave him so much confidence," David Wright said. "He can be a complete hitter. It's very easy to label someone as a player who can't hit lefties, but give him a chance and see what happens. He only gets more and more confident with more success."

The soft-spoken Duda never talks big, but he has huge power, which makes him a rare commodity in a drug-policed game with fewer and fewer home runs.

The Mets are open to talking about an extension at this early stage because they recognize that, with Duda under control through the 2017 season, they have a chance for a discount based on the up-front, guaranteed payoff.

Duda's 30 homers last season ranked third in the National League, only seven behind Giancarlo Stanton, who you may recall just signed a 13-year, $325-million contract with the Marlins. That's the premium put on the long ball in this testing era, and Duda is well-positioned to cash in because of it.

On Sunday, he certainly sounded open to signing long term with the Mets.

"Hopefully," he said, "I'd rather get it done before the season, just so we can concentrate on the season and focus on winning."

In the meantime, Duda has turned his attention to improving his numbers against lefties. Earlier this month, he asked to go on the Lakeland trip, a 2-hour, 30-minute bus ride, so he could face the Tigers' David Price. Duda also tangled with CC Sabathia when the Yankees visited Tradition Field.

Duda smacked a line-drive triple off Nationals lefty Jerry Blevins on Saturday and continued to rake yesterday against the Cardinals. Duda had a pair of singles off starter Marco Gonzales, driving in a run, and added another RBI single off sidearming reliever Randy Choate. In the fifth, Wright was intentionally walked in front of Duda, who pulled a sharp grounder through the right side of the infield.

As much as Duda is valued for game-changing pop, Sunday's lefty-lefty matchups showed another dimension: shortening his swing and doing damage without leaving the ballpark. That's going to be crucial when managers deploy their bullpen specifically to neutralize Duda with men on base.

"People always thought he had to hit home runs," Terry Collins said. "Now we try to revert him back to being a good hitter first, and the home runs will come."

Last season, Duda's chances against lefties were restricted. He batted .180 (20-for-111) with 41 strikeouts, and the Mets usually benched him when facing the tougher lefthanded starters.

Collins isn't planning to do that this season unless Duda gives him a reason to reconsider. Thus far, there's no evidence to suggest that. Instead, Duda is looking like a more complete hitter as he prepares for a season in which he'll have to prove that those 30 homers were no fluke.

Duda says he's already put that behind him.

"That happened last year," he said. "It has no bearing on this season. Our main goal, our main focus, is to go out there and win. That's on my mind."

That's also the kind of talk Wright likes hearing from a player who could be his teammate for a long time. Wright's eight-year, $138-million deal has him locked up through 2020, and he'd like to have Duda alongside him.

"I think it's a terrific idea," Wright said. "And I think it's well-deserved. Not only is he a premier hitter in our lineup, he can be a premier hitter in the National League."

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