John Buck set the bar high in April. Maybe a little too high.
Since starting the season on an offensive tear, the Mets catcher has struggled to make any sort of offensive contribution. In his lone at-bat in Thursday's's 5-4, 15-inning loss to the Diamondbacks, a pinch-hit appearance in the 12th inning, Buck struck out looking and was ejected for arguing the call.
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"Major-league players don't get here without being proud, and when they fail and they're struggling, they're not happy," manager Terry Collins said before the game.
"I just told John, 'Look, you've got to hang in there.' We sat here for two months in April and May doing nothing but talking about the value of John Buck. He's in a tough spot. Now he's struggling and now all of a sudden we're looking in another direction."
Buck began the season moonlighting as the Mets' best power hitter, and although he hit only .241 in April, he made good things happen when he made contact. Nine of his 21 hits that month were home runs, which ranked second in the majors, and his 25 RBIs were fifth.
But ever since the calendar flipped to May, Buck has slowed down considerably. His batting average has dropped to .205 and he has only four home runs and 14 RBIs since May 1. He has slumped so badly that Collins has given Anthony Recker (.177, four homers, 11 RBIs) extended time behind the plate.
"I welcome the expectations, but I know it's a long season, and even though I am through a valley right now -- you go through peaks and valleys -- my at-bats have been better," Buck said. "The last week or two, they haven't quite fallen for me."
Recker hasn't been much better than Buck, although he did hit a tying home run in the 13th Thursday. Since the beginning of June, Recker has eight RBIs but only seven hits. He stranded three runners Thursday, two when he struck out looking in the sixth.
During the past two weeks, Buck and Recker are a combined 7-for-54 with three home runs and five RBIs after going 1-for-7 Thursday.
Collins has taken to defending his catchers. He emphasized their body of work, including their play behind the plate. He also pointed out that Buck and Recker already have driven in more runs (49) than the Mets' catchers did all of last year. Their 16 homers are 11 more than last year's group.
"Ike [Davis] is gone, Lucas Duda's gone, so now we're turning to the catchers to have to produce runs for us," Collins said. "Sometimes that's a little unfair, and that wasn't what they were supposed to do in the beginning."