MIAMI — Michael Conforto jogged to centerfield for the first time in his major-league career Sunday, his latest challenge on the anniversary of his promotion to the Mets.
But as has been the case during what has been a whirlwind adventure, the game didn’t leave him too much time to think.
In a 3-0 win over the Marlins, Conforto made a do-or-die diving catch to rob Miguel Rojas, the very first batter of Conforto’s very first start in centerfield.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m not the fastest guy out there,” Conforto said. “But I think I can make up for it with the right angle or a good jump on the ball, and just flying around, making plays and laying out.”
From the pitcher’s mound, Steven Matz revealed a sense of disbelief.
“I didn’t think he had it,” Matz said. “I didn’t think he held on. His arm was fully extended. I saw the ball, but I wasn’t sure if it had come out or not.”
A whiff might have led to an inside-the-park homer at spacious Marlins Park, part of the reason that manager Terry Collins had been hesitant to move Conforto to a new position after a six-day crash course in center.
But a position switch became a necessity, with Yoenis Cespedes forced to play leftfield, which is less taxing on his troublesome right quad.
“He’s not 100 percent but he’s good enough to play,” Collins said of Cespedes, whose bat has been too valuable to remove from the lineup.
That same thinking applied to Conforto, who went 2-for-2 before he was pulled for a pinch hitter in the seventh. The Mets need production from his bat if they are to make another postseason run.
“He’s here because he can hit and if we don’t play him in centerfield, we have no place to play him,” Collins said. “So, we’ve got to get him in the game. And the other thing is, we’ve got to find out if he can do it.”
Conforto is hitting .455 (5-for-11) since July 18 after he was recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas, where he emphasized hitting to all fields and getting his lower half more involved in his swing.
“I’m just really looking at it as part of my journey and trying to use everything as a positive, use everything as a lesson,” Conforto said. “Everything I’ve been through in the past month has brought me to this point.”
Conforto gave the Mets reason to believe that the experiment in centerfield might work, even though defense never has been his strength. It was another accomplishment he has squeezed in during the last 12 months.
He jumped from Double-A to make his major-league debut, homered in the World Series, surged to begin his sophomore season, slumped to wind up in Triple-A for the first time, and then rejoined the Mets to learn a position he’s never played.
Said Conforto: “It doesn’t feel like a year.”
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