MIAMI — Amid perhaps the deepest offensive struggles of his career, Michael Conforto was on the bench Monday for the start of the Mets’ series opener against the Marlins, the second time in three games he was out of the lineup.
Manager Luis Rojas, who believes Conforto’s issues are mental, said he was assigned hitting-related "homework" to do before the game and would be available off the bench. Conforto ended up doubling to lead off the ninth inning of the Mets' 6-3 loss.
"It’s definitely been frustrating. There’s no denying that," he said before the game. "I’ve got to play better. That’s the bottom line."
Rojas did not commit to Conforto returning to the lineup Tuesday.
"The plan is for him to work," Rojas said. "We want him to work and find himself rather than be a little bit too mental at the plate. He’s not mental when he’s not playing. So he’s not beating himself up or anything. He’s taking advantage of the time and working hard. We’re trying to get probably past his mental state when he’s at the plate."
Conforto’s statistics have been poor for the entire season, but he seemed to be breaking out when the Mets returned from the All-Star break. He homered in Pittsburgh, then homered twice a day later in Cincinnati.
But since then he is 4-for-39 with one extra-base hit. That slump within the season-long slump has sunk his average to .196 (the lowest of his career), his OBP to .324 and his slugging percentage to .324 (by far the lowest of his career).
That is worse production than 2016, when he was bad enough that the Mets twice demoted him to Triple-A.
"I felt good," Conforto said of the Pittsburgh-Cincinnati stretch. "Honestly, I felt a lot more like myself. This game can bring you right back to your knees. It was frustrating to go through that, to feel like I had it going. But you just gotta keep moving forward.
"Baseball will humble you. When you feel like you have it all figured out, people adjust, the game gets hard. You’ve just got to keep grinding, keep working. That’s the one thing that I know is there’s never a time where you can let up on the gas, never a time that you can feel like you’ve got it all figured out. You’ve just got to keep working."
Within the ugliness are some positive signs: Conforto is walking more (13% of his plate appearances) and striking out less (23.3%) than last year, when he was very good in the pandemic-shortened season.
Conforto simplified by saying he needs to hit the most hittable pitches. Usually he excels at that. This year, not so much.
"I need to be ready to hit," he said. "Doesn’t matter when. When the ball is in one of my hot zones, I gotta be ready to hit. And I’ve been missing some pitches, and it doesn’t matter what pitch they are. Typically if it’s in the heart of the plate, I do damage with it. Right now I’m not doing that."
Rojas said he wants Conforto to stop thinking so much at the plate. He has made all sorts of mechanical tweaks, the manager explained, but he has been stuck in his own head, mulling those changes while in the batter’s box — which is not helpful when attempting to hit.
Conforto concurred, saying that "at some point, it becomes an approach thing."
"More than anything, it’s just a mental grind to not see the hard work paying off," he said. "But it will. I have no doubt about that, that it’s going to pay off. We’ve got about 60 games left, and plenty of time for me to make an impact and get back to being more like myself in time for the playoffs, hopefully."
Sign up for Newsday’s Mets Messages for updates directly to your phone via text, free with a Newsday digital subscription. Learn more at newsday.com/metstext.