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Mets unsure what to make of utilityman Jordany Valdespin

Jordany Valdespin celebrates his 10th-inning walk-off grand slam

Jordany Valdespin celebrates his 10th-inning walk-off grand slam against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field. (April 24, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

ATLANTA -- By now, the Mets should know all about Jordany Valdespin.

After all, they've already been through so much together. Since making his big-league debut a little more than a year ago, he has irked opponents with his behavior, baffled his own teammates with his antics and, through it all, tantalized fans with flashes of his potential.

Yet even with an outfield in need of a talent infusion, the Mets seem unsure what to make of him.

In the 25-year-old utilityman, manager Terry Collins sees a valuable bench bat who has shown a knack for coming up big in difficult situations, just as he did when his pinch-hit three-run homer on Wednesday helped the Mets end a six-game losing streak. But when it comes to trying Valdespin in an expanded role, specifically in the outfield, Collins cites Valdespin's tendency to get "a little overaggressive at times."

For now, it seems that Valdespin will remain a part-timer known for one particular skill. But the possibility of change always lingers over an outfield that has struggled, as expected.

Their shortcomings might wind up on full display this weekend during a three-game series with the Braves, who used their offseason to unite brothers Justin and B.J. Upton to form perhaps the best outfield in baseball. By contrast, even with leftfielder Lucas Duda's early-season surge, the Mets' outfielders have combined for just a .671 OPS. It's the fifth-lowest total in baseball.

As part of Collins' outfield mix this season, Valdespin has yet to start more than two games in a row. But despite the manager's efforts to base playing time on favorable matchups and platoon splits, the results have not come. And none of his available choices has established himself as anything more than a spare part.

Valdespin arguably brings the most upside, even though his body of work reveals some familiar flaws. In 23 games this season, he's hitting .263 with two homers, though his on-base percentage is well below the league average at .300. His lack of plate discipline stands out even more with the Mets, who have adopted an organizational philosophy of selectivity at the plate.

But Valdespin also brings the potential of needed athleticism to an outfield that lacks a true centerfielder, and more of the power that he has flashed as a pinch hitter. His resume includes six pinch-hit homers with the Mets, tied for second-most in franchise history.

"I'm ready for any situation," Valdespin said. "I'm ready for my time. If they want me to pinch hit, I'm ready. When they give me a chance, I'll get ready and do my job."

Valdespin's reputation has grown despite an exceedingly small sample size. In 58 career pinch-hit appearances, he is hitting .208; this year's major- league average for pinch hitters is .210. But his knack for timing -- many of his pinch hits have come in prominent spots -- might keep him on the bench.

Mets captain David Wright raved that Valdespin has "mastered the art of pinch hitting" and hitting coach Dave Hudgens wondered if Valdespin's "intense, and high energy, and high emotion" personality makes him particularly well-suited for the role.

To Collins, Valdespin might be too valuable to move.

"He loves to come off the bench when the pressure's on, the heat's on," Collins said. "It's amazing. His eyes seem to get bigger and he seems to see the ball better."

Notes & quotes: Mets righthander Matt Harvey earned National League pitcher of the month honors Thursday after finishing April with a 4-0 record and a 1.56 ERA. It's Harvey's first pitcher of the month award.

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