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Michael Conforto hopes home run will spark big second half

Mets second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and right fielder

Mets second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and right fielder Jose Bautista greet left fielder Michael Conforto after he scores on his three-run home run against the Washington Nationals during the fifth inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Saturday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Michael Conforto will be nowhere near the All-Star Game in Washington this week. Not many .218 hitters end up there.

A year ago, Conforto was preparing for his first trip to the Midsummer Classic, but this season, he has mainly been searching for answers.

It’s a timing issue, mostly. Conforto said he’s been close on pitches, a split-second here or there being the difference between a productive at-bat and a stroll back to the dugout.

“It’s part of the game,” Conforto said. “It’s one of those things that have been both frustrating and encouraging at the same time. You know you’re right there. The swing feels good; you’re just a little bit late or a little bit early. So finding that sweet spot is the name of the game.”

Conforto found the sweetest of spots, at least for a moment, Saturday afternoon at Citi Field. He launched a three-run home run into the rightfield bullpen, part of a four-run fifth inning that spurred the Mets to a 7-4 victory over the Nationals.

It was Conforto’s 11th home run and first since June 26. It was his first home run with runners on base since June 16.

“I got just enough of it,” he said. “I got a good pitch to hit with two strikes, tried to stay short, put a good swing on it, and tried not to do too much. It’s funny how that turns into a home run. I’m trying to do more of that and keep working hard.”

As upbeat as Conforto was about his faith in the work he puts in every day and how that eventually will result in production, it still was good to see some form of results before the All-Star break.

“It’s rewarding to reap the benefits,” he said. “Sometimes when you put the work in and you’re not getting what you’re looking for, that can be frustrating . . . It happens all the time throughout the season. You just have to keep on grinding through it. We play 162 games and all of them count. So I’m just doing all I can to prepare every day and execute when my number is called.”

Conforto is coming off a shoulder injury suffered last August. He underwent surgery in September and was able to return in early April, nearly a month earlier than anticipated. But aside from a so-so May in which he hit .256 with five home runs, Conforto has been unable to put together a significant stretch of success. He hit .198 with four homers in June and entered Saturday’s game hitting .162 in July.

It’s tough to predict an all-out breakout after one game, but manager Mickey Callaway hopes Conforto can use Saturday’s success to propel him to a better second half.

“I think he can,” Callaway said. “When he goes and clicks a homer like that, it gives you confidence. You’re clicking the ball out in front of the plate. Your timing is better and one big hit, one big homer, can get you on a roll.”

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