PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Michael Conforto didn’t have any hits in four at-bats in a minor-league game Friday. He made solid contact once and said his timing was off.
But the results hardly mattered. That he faced live pitching — in mid-March, with about a week and a half of spring training remaining — registered as a noteworthy accomplishment for the Mets outfielder, who slowly is making his way back from September surgery to repair a torn posterior capsule in his left shoulder.
The Mets have said May 1 is an approximate return date for Conforto and have been pleased with his progress.
“At one point in time, we would not have thought that he’d be in a minor-league game taking real at-bats [this early],” manager Mickey Callaway said. “He’s in a really good spot right now.”
Conforto has been optimistic. His six months since surgery have been marked by his push of wanting to do more sooner and the pull of those in charge of his rehabilitation — doctors and physical therapists — telling him to take it slow.
He knows he is supposed to be careful, that it’s better for the team and better for him not to rush. But that doesn’t make it easy.
“I’ve done everything my surgeon, our team doctor, our physical therapist, everybody [wanted],” Conforto said. “We’ve done it by the book, and it’s obviously turned out the right way. I think I’m happy with where it’s at right now.”
Conforto’s stage Friday was an unglamorous one. On a back field at the Mets’ First Data Field complex, he batted second in each of the first four innings — minor-league games during spring training are flexible in that way — against Nationals minor-leaguers.
His plate appearances yielded a walk (on seven pitches), a pop-up to shallow left-centerfield (two), another walk (nine) and a flyout to deep leftfield (four). It was Conforto’s first action against live pitching since Aug. 24.
“It was a good first step, a step in the right direction,” he said. “It’s good to see some pitches and actually have a competitive situation.
“I thought I swung at strikes. That was my one goal going in, make sure I’m swinging at strikes. Good habits from the beginning. Timing was a little off, but that’s to be expected first time out there.”
Conforto said the plan is for him to get more than four at-bats Saturday during intra squad games. He also might play defense. Callaway and Conforto hope he will get into a Grapefruit League game next week.
Conforto is monitoring how his shoulder feels. He said it isn’t stiff when he wakes up, he is able to do his normal routine in the batting cage and he has been keeping up with his shoulder stability exercises.
Conforto’s doctors warned him that he should say something if he feels any tightness in the back of his shoulder. So far, so good.
“It feels like it never happened, but I have to pay attention to it,” he said. “I have to be aware of it and just make sure I’m doing all the right things.”
Last year, Conforto had 60 at-bats in spring training. The year before, 50. He said he doesn’t have a target number for how many he will need or want before he feels ready for the regular season, nor did he say that May 1 is his goal.
“I don’t think it really goes by at-bats. It’s a mentality thing,” Conforto said. “For me, it’s a little different. We’re just at the beginning. Once I start to feel normal and have my timing back and everything, I think it’ll be a little bit easier for me [to tell] where it’s going to land.
“They don’t want me looking at ‘May 1 — this is the day I got to be ready.’ Maybe sooner, maybe later. We take it one day at a time.”