Travis d’Arnaud, Kevin Plawecki fine with time-sharing arrangement
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The New York noise feels incessant sometimes.
Kevin Plawecki has heard so much of it, he’s had to learn to ignore some of the chatter. Travis d’Arnaud, who’s borne his fair share of criticism, appears fully aware he has something to prove. The Mets’ catchers — close friends off the field and a platoon on it — know all about criticism but nonetheless entered spring training with one central message.
Others may doubt them, but to succeed, they cannot doubt themselves.
“Very confident,” d’Arnaud said when asked if they real ly can be the answer at catcher. “We both finished strong. We both played well together. Not only did we play well together last year, but we always have in the past.”
Then Plawecki: “I was really confident [the end of last year]. I don’t think I gave them another choice [than to bring me back]. I think that’s what I wanted to do.”
Of course, exactly zero players will go into spring training saying they’re not confident. That probably counts double for Day 1: Monday was report day for pitchers and catchers at First Data Field.
But d’Arnaud and Plawecki, who struggled in different ways last year before having productive Septembers, seem to have an edge to them. While fans were clamoring for the front office to sign Jonathan Lucroy, d’Arnaud and Plawecki clamored to show that the changes they implemented at the end of last year are sustainable.
At this point, neither appears to have a problem sharing the role. There’s just too much on the line, d’Arnaud said, to get caught up in things like that.
“I’ve looked a lot past that,” said d’Arnaud, once the Mets’ clear-cut starting catcher. “I want to get to the World Series. I still have a big, bitter taste in my mouth from losing in 2015, and if they feel we’ve got to platoon to get back there, I’m all in. Whatever they want, I’m all in.”
Plawecki changed his mindset, d’Arnaud changed his swing. But will that be enough?
“It takes some time to get used to playing in New York — to get used to the fan base, you guys [the media], and then making the jump from Triple-A to the big leagues in general is tough,” Plawecki said. “When I first came up, I was young and naive in a sense and I didn’t know what to expect. Things kind of sped up on me a little bit. It was a mental grind I wasn’t really used to.”
After getting sent down in May, Plawecki received consistent playing time in Triple-A and returned to the Mets in August. He left the big leagues with a .125 average in 10 games. By Oct. 1 — 26 additional games, not counting the one he pitched in relief — he had a slash line of .260/.364/.400. He hit .303 in that span, an admittedly small sample of 76 at-bats.
D’Arnaud changed his swing last September and had some decent early results. He added a leg kick to help with his timing, and he keeps his head down and his eye on the ball through to contact. He’s gotten smacked with a few of his own foul balls that way, but if anyone is used to getting abused by foul tips, it’s a catcher.
“A lot of the times I noticed I would pull my head and that would cause me to roll over a lot, so I keep my eye on the ball,” he said, “as cliche as it sounds.
“And be more selective . . . I think my chase rate went a little up last year, higher than it should have been.”
A career .245 hitter, d’Arnaud batted .244 last year but hit .297 in the final month after changing his swing. He also hit six home runs with 19 RBIs, more in both categories than in any other month (he had 16 homers and 57 RBIs for the season).
D’Arnaud’s .167 caught-stealing rate was among the worst in the majors, though at least part of that had to do with the pitchers not keeping baserunners honest. He said he worked on that, too, spending part of the offseason in Arizona with Mets third-base coach Glenn Sherlock, a former catcher.
“We just want to win games,” Plawecki said. “It doesn’t really matter how we do it. No matter who’s back there, we’re supporting each other . . . That’s how we’re going to be able to win a championship, honestly.”