PHILADELPHIA - Matt den Dekker boarded a red-eye flight and arrived here around 6:30 a.m. Saturday, giving the outfielder enough time to get some rest before reporting to Citizens Bank Park.
Once there, he rejoined a Mets team that is determined to learn whether he belongs.
"I'm feeling good right now," den Dekker said before the Mets faced the Phillies. "I'm just hoping to keep that going."
Den Dekker, 27, has had brief forays in the big leagues. But with their playoff hopes fading, the Mets have committed to investing playing time in some of their unproven players such as den Dekker, who rode a dominant stretch at Triple-A Las Vegas to his latest promotion.
With den Dekker up, the Mets have the potential to have one of the best defensive outfields in the game, with Curtis Granderson in right, Juan Lagares in centerfield, and den Dekker playing most games.
Manager Terry Collins believes that the Mets could receive a similar bump as they enjoyed last season, when the outfield defense improved with the addition of Lagares. "We stayed away from big innings because we ran down balls, so I think it makes a big difference, a huge difference," Collins said. "Those are certainly three very, very good defenders."
Of course, the Mets already know about den Dekker's defensive prowess, which was once considered a step ahead of Lagares. But they know much less about what he can do at the plate over a long stretch of time.
Over parts of five minor-league seasons, den Dekker has 460 strikeouts compared with just 159 walks. Overall, he posted a 23.2 percent strikeout rate, which the Mets challenged den Dekker to reduce.
He responded to the challenge at Triple-A Las Vegas, where this season he has trimmed his strikeout rate to 16.9 percent.
With Triple-A hitting coach George Greer, den Dekker made several mechanical changes, including spreading out his stance and eliminated the stride in his swing. He has also emphasized using his hands.
"It's really nothing too much different," he said.
The adjustments haven't been much different from fixes he's tried in the past. But for the first time, they have succeeded in significantly cutting down on his tendency to swing and miss. With a shorter swing, simpler mechanics, den Dekker said he has had more time to see and recognize pitches.
"It's probably the first time for me in pro ball," he said. "I think it's just time, and maturing maybe a little bit."
But the biggest difference has been his chance to play regularly in the minors -- a chance that he will receive with the Mets. "For anybody, that helps," he said.
Beginning on June 19, the first game of his latest stint with Las Vegas, den Dekker hit .402 with a .487 on-base percentage and a .665 slugging mark. Though he had just four homers, he hit 21 doubles. He worked 25 walks compared with only 26 strikeouts.
"Due to the fact that he's putting the ball in play better, he's hitting," Collins said. "We know he's got power. He's for power in the past in the minor leagues. We know that the more contact that he makes, the more chance he's got to be successful and use that power."
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