CLEVELAND — Through the first 11 games of the Mets’ season, the most potent at in the lineup belongs to a sweet-swinging 23-year-old who is beginning his first full season in the major leagues.
Michael Conforto leads the Mets’ regulars in average (.313), slugging (.563) and OPS (.984). And his RBI total (six) should climb now that manager Terry Collins has entrusted him to hit third in a lineup stocked with veterans.
“I think that’s where he’s going to end up hitting one of these days full-time against everybody,” Collins said following the Mets’ 6-0 victory against the Indians.
But “one of those days” hasn’t quite arrived yet. Collins said he intends to ride the hot hand with Conforto, who has thrived in his three games in the third spot. For now, that’s where he will remain, though with an important caveat.
“I’m going to put him in the three hole for awhile — except for when we face lefties,” said Collins, reiterating his peculiar desire to shield Conforto from lefties.
Indeed, Conforto showed no trouble against southpaws in the minor leagues. Yet, Collins has given no indication of straying from his policy of benching Conforto against lefthanded pitching.
In the immediate future, Conforto appears to be locked into the third spot. In the Mets’ upcoming three-game series against Phillies, they are not slated to face a lefthanded starter.
Nevertheless, Conforto has yet to buckle under any challenge that has been thrown his way this season. He’s only had four at-bats against lefthanded pitching, yet he’s collected two hits and a pair of RBIs. Nor has he shied away from hitting in a prominent lineup spot.
Collins moved Conforto ahead of cleanup man Yoenis Cespedes to help “springboard the offense.” The move came after the Mets averaged just 2.5 runs over their first eight games.
Conforto has responded by going 5-for-12 with three doubles and three RBIs. He used Sunday’s series finale to punctuate a strong series, lashing run-scoring doubles in the first and second innings. In taking two of three from the Indians, the Mets averaged 5.7 runs.
Through it all, Conforto looked comfortable.
“I wouldn’t say intimidating, I think it’s exciting,” Conforto said. “Anytime you’re in the heart of a lineup and you’re in a spot where you can do some damage and drive in some runs, I think that’s really exciting. For me, it’s been that way. I never had any nervousness about it, it kind of felt natural, kind of where I’ve been in in college and through the minor leagues. So, I feel pretty good there.”
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