MILWAUKEE — As Michael Conforto plunged deeper and deeper into his worst slump as a big leaguer, the Mets’ top officials discussed his immediate future. They weighed whether he’d be best served sorting out his issues in the minor leagues.
“He’s a young player who has only been up for less than a year,” assistant general manager John Ricco said this week. “So to say that he’s up here for good no matter what happens? No. That’s always in the back of your mind. But that’s not what we’re thinking.”
Indeed, the conversation proved to be brief, with manager Terry Collins and members of the coaching staff insisting that the 23-year-old phenom would be better off fighting through his slump with the Mets. Now, they may be benefitting from what proved to be an easy decision.
“It was brought up and it never really went anywhere,” Ricco said of a potential demotion for Conforto, who has since shown encouraging signs that his deep freeze may be over.
The most convincing evidence thus far came on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, when Conforto’s game-tying two-run homer in the eighth inning paved the way for the Mets’ 6-5 victory in 10 innings.
He finished the night with three RBIs, including a sacrifice fly earlier in the game. But it was the home run swing that may have been more revealing. It had been precisely the kind of scenario that had brought the worst out of Conforto, who began the day in a 4-for-40 skid that has typified his production since his cooling off from a scorching April.
Since then, injuries have chipped away at the core of the Mets, severely thinning out what had been a robust lineup. That has placed more pressure at the feet of those who remain, including Conforto, whose strong start looked to be his first steps toward stardom.
After hitting .365 in April, he batted just .169 in May. Even after recording extra-base hits in each of his last two games, Conforto is hitting only .154 in June. But his recent results have at least provided some encouragement.
“Recently, the at-bats have been better,” Conforto said. “Not all of them, but I think we’re moving in the right direction. In this sport, that’s all you can ask for. It’s not all going to come back in one day. It’s a process and I’ve got to stick to it.”
How quickly Conforto can change his fortunes may determine whether the Mets can survive their recent rash of injuries.
Collins had moved Conforto down from the third spot in the lineup in hopes of alleviating some pressure. But for the second straight game on Thursday, Conforto hit second.
“I’m just hoping he continues to swing the bat,” said Collins, who believes that Conforto could benefit from the protection offered by slugging centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes in the third spot.
Even with his prolonged slump, Conforto is hitting .279. His homer on Wednesday was his ninth of the season, equalling his total from his rookie season.
Of the Mets’ qualifying hitters, Conforto’s .794 OPS ranks third, behind only Cespedes and second baseman Neil Walker.
“I’m happy with where we’re at right now,” Conforto said. “And motivated to get back to when things were going very, very good.”