As the semicircle formed around his locker and the media inched forward, Travis d’Arnaud warned everyone not to get too close. The Mets catcher told us he’s been battling a cold, like a few of his teammates, so it was a polite gesture on his part.
Staying in a bubble now, however, wouldn’t be the worst thing for d’Arnaud, who needs to steer clear of any possible contaminants to his swing.
We’re still in early March, but d’Arnaud homered for the second time in seven games in yesterday’s 8-2 win over the Marlins. Not only that, but he’s hitting .450 (9-for-20) with four RBIs.
Normally, we’d think it hypocritical to emphasize these numbers a day after urging Mets fans to disregard Matt Harvey’s subpar debut, but there’s a key difference.
Harvey is working his way back from the removal of a rib and the extensive rehab that comes with it. In d’Arnaud’s case, he already may be fixed. Now it’s just a matter of helping him remain that way, which has always been the most vexing problem for someone hitting coach Kevin Long called a “tink erer” after yesterday’s game.
“We set out for him to do one thing, and that’s to repeat his swing,” Long said. “Not change, not get away from it, and he’s done exactly that. He’s getting rewarded for it. So hopefully we can keep him in that lane. And if he does that, we know what he can do.”
This is what the Mets hoped would happen with d’Arnaud, and the main reason they chose not to pursue other catching options in the offseason. Sandy Alderson repeatedly expressed faith that the 2015 d’Arnaud was in there somewhere. They just had to draw him back out, a task that led to hiring a new catching coach, Glenn Sherlock, and a renewed effort by Long to erase the flaws in his swing.
The Mets believed age 28 was far too early to declare the d’Arnaud project a failure, and they could be right. With Long’s tutoring, d’Arnaud no longer wraps the bat behind his head — shortening his swing — and the benefit has been obvious.
D’Arnaud would rather talk about the “process” than the statistical results from going back to an approach he hadn’t really used since high school.
“I’m able to see the ball longer and not have to cheat to get to certain pitches,” he said. “Just keeping everything slow and not trying to do too much.”
Sounds simple. But it’s difficult to be patient, to keep composed, when the clock is ticking on your job security.
As d’Arnaud faltered last season, becoming a defensive liability and slipping to a .629 OPS, the Mets leaned on Rene Rivera to pick up the slack. This season figured to put d’Arnaud at the crossroads of his Flushing career, and if these past few weeks are any indication, he could hold on to the starting job deep into the future. That would be a dangerous upgrade to an already potent Mets lineup.
“First of all, he’s a run producer,” Terry Collins said. “Everybody said this guy has a chance to hit for power, and he does. And if you just add another run producer down in the order a little bit, I’m telling you, that lineup is going to be pretty deep.”
Collins also said d’Arnaud’s throwing has improved considerably, and with the rotation focusing more on holding runners, that should help, too.
With all this progress, however, the Mets still stressed the importance of making sure d’Arnaud doesn’t stray.
There is no finish to this project. The maintenance must be ongoing.
“The credit goes to him because he’s the one out there doing it,” Long said. “The game plan is laid out, and his ability to execute it has been flawless, honestly. We’ll try to keep him there. See how long he can go with it. But if he does that, I expect to see a lot more of this.”
That’s much better than hoping for it.