DENVER - With so much attention Friday night focused on the home runs soaring off the bat of Yoenis Cespedes, another significant development for the Mets went almost unnoticed during the seventh inning.
Maybe because it happened in the dugout, where Lucas Duda approached Terry Collins and told the manager his back had tightened up on him -- again. Collins immediately replaced Duda with Daniel Murphy and now the Mets are facing the next two weeks without their first baseman after placing him on the disabled list Saturday.
"I certainly didn't need to hear it," Collins said of Friday's chat with Duda. "Because we've been playing good and he's a big piece of our lineup. A huge piece. I just hope when he gets back that he's a hundred percent ready and healthy and can finish it off."
The Mets don't have any guarantee of that, and Duda's condition, which they are describing as lower-back stiffness, still seems like it needs to be further examined. To that effect, Duda will visit Monday with Los Angeles-based back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins, who treated David Wright for his spinal stenosis for most of this season.
Assistant general manager John Ricco said the Mets and Duda want to take advantage of the team's current proximity to Watkins to have him stop by before returning east to begin his rehab. Only then will the Mets have a more precise understanding of what has been bothering Duda since he missed six starts earlier this month with the same problem.
The Mets aren't sounding any alarms, but it's worth noting that Wright's spinal stenosis wasn't revealed until he landed on the DL with a hamstring strain and then complained of more severe back issues. Wright then spent more than three months under Watkins' observation, even living on the West Coast to do so.
In Duda's case, he was able to return to the lineup Tuesday in Baltimore after the initial six-game break before Collins had to remove him Friday. But Duda said he never had an MRI after those symptoms sidelined him, and the Mets -- after the Rockies' physician examined Duda -- are going under the assumption this is a similar issue.
"I think it's a continuation of the same thing," Ricco said. "It looks like he was never fully healed because it recurred this quickly. I think it was obvious we needed to give it more time."
Clearly, any type of back ailment can be a tricky matter, and it will have taken Wright more than four months to prepare for Monday's expected return.
The Mets can't afford a prolonged absence by Duda. His 21 homers lead the team and he's the most lethal weapon at Citi Field, where he's batting .295 with 18 homers, 41 RBIs and a 1.056 OPS in 57 games. The Mets have a trio of backup gloves at first base -- Michael Cuddyer started there Saturday night -- but they can't replace Duda's power.
With Wright coming back, Collins has more flexibility to use Daniel Murphy at first, as well as elsewhere, but the Mets have to keep their fingers crossed Duda's condition will show the same improvement it did last time with rest and medication. "It's not like we let this thing go on," Ricco said. "He felt it [Friday] night and we got him out of the game. So I think that's where you'd say we feel pretty confident a couple weeks will do it."
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