SAN DIEGO - For Mets manager Terry Collins, much of the summer has been spent trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle without the proper pieces.
Curtis Granderson, signed to hit in the middle of the lineup, instead has found a home in the leadoff spot. Lucas Duda, the power-hitting first baseman, only recently has been eased into the cleanup role.
The Mets have started seven different players in leftfield. They received almost zero production offensively from their catchers until the recent surge by Travis d'Arnaud.
But Collins has less to think about now because his starting lineups finally have some stability. "When things are going good, you really don't worry about much," he said Saturday. "You ride the ride."
Lately, that ride has been uncharacteristically smooth for the Mets, who entered Saturday night's game against the Padres as winners of four straight and eight of nine. They had not won five straight since May of last season.
Part of the surge is the result of a clicking offense. Entering play Saturday night, cleanup hitter Duda had reached safely in 19 of 21 games with a .310 average and a 1.023 OPS. D'Arnaud has provided some protection for Duda from the five hole. Since his return from Triple-A Las Vegas, d'Arnaud was hitting .318.
Neither Duda nor d'Arnaud were viewed as middle-of-the-order bats at the start of the season. But their spike in production has given Collins no reason to make a change.
"Right now, both guys, their confidence is unbelievable," he said. "They feel they're seeing the ball good, they're putting good swings on it. So we'll leave it alone."
The same can be said about Granderson, who was hitting .304 with four homers in his last 14 games entering Saturday night. Much of that production has come in the leadoff spot; he has a healthy .370 on-base percentage batting first.
"It's worked out," Collins said. "It seems like he's running with it. It seems like every night he's on base once or twice, whether it's with a walk or a hit."
Even in leftfield, where the Mets have cycled through personnel, Collins appears closer to finding the proper balance.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis has emerged as the newest hot hand, starting in left Saturday night for the fourth straight game instead of Eric Young Jr.
"He brings something to the lineup, especially in the middle of the lineup, where we weren't getting a lot of production early," Collins said. "We're starting to get production there."
Nieuwenhuis has made the most of his chances, hitting .313 in 17 games since his recall from Triple-A Las Vegas on June 19. He has five outfield assists this season, including three in his last four games.
Collins still will use matchups to determine who plays leftfield, and even Nieuwenhuis' recent play brings no promise of playing time. For now, though, he is the preferred choice.
"He's a threat in the middle of the lineup, as he showed last week in New York," Collins said. "He's got power [and] he's a very good defender, as he showed [Friday] night with a great throw to get [Alexi] Amarista [trying to stretch a single into a double]."
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