PORT ST. LUCIE — Lucas Duda’s enlightenment came last summer as he watched the Mets fighting for a playoff berth without him.
A year earlier, the slugging first baseman had been a significant component in the team’s surge to the National League pennant. But there he was, spending most of his time at the Mets’ spring training complex, trying to rehab from a stress fracture in his lower back that threatened to sabotage his career.
“It made me realize how short my career is and baseball is going to continue with or without me,” the 31-year-old Duda said Friday. “So I push myself every day to enjoy this and try to play as hard as I can and at the end of the day I can look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I did what I could.’ ”
The fruits of that renewed dedication have been realized this spring. After missing the first week of the Grapefruit League season with back spasms, Duda has returned and resembled the player who has helped anchor the Mets’ lineup in recent years.
On Friday, he was 1-for-2 with an RBI double in the Mets’ 16-2 victory over the Cardinals, continuing his surge. Overall he is hitting .292 with two homers and seven RBIs in nine games this spring.
“He feels good, and I believe him,” hitting coach Kevin Long said. “He says he feels as healthy as he’s felt in three years, and watching his work and how he goes about it, his swing, he looks great.
“He’s catching up to fastballs, he’s reacting to breaking balls and he’s shown me enough so far that I think he’s ready to go. As it stands right now, I know he feels good and I feel good about where he’s at.”
Duda played just 47 games for the Mets last season, returning from his stress fracture in mid-September before sitting out the team’s wild-card game loss against the Giants, as manager Terry Collins decided to use James Loney at first base.
The Mets still believe Duda can contribute 25-30 homers this season, but Duda is more interested in staying healthy than pondering the numbers he might produce. To that end, he has become more focused than ever on a strategy that will keep him on the field.
“I’m the type of guy that likes to work and not back off, but just be smart about swings, ground balls, working out,” Duda said. “I’m just much more attentive to that than I was in the past and hopefully it will carry me into the season and let me play 150-plus games, that is my goal.”
Duda, when feeling extra energetic, says he now resists the urge to take an additional 50-100 swings in the batting cage. He also has made stretching and exercises for his lower back a priority.
“I’m still working my butt off, but maybe not to the extent I was in the past,” Duda said. “But [work] is engrained in me, that is who I am and why I got here. That is part of my personality and who I am as a baseball player. The work ethic will never go away, it’s just about being smart about it.”
Any rust associated with taking only 153 at-bats last season hasn’t been evident in Duda’s swing this spring.
“He’s swinging the bat right now, at this time in spring training, better than I’ve ever seen him in spring training,” Collins said. “He is going up there with good confidence and using the field again to hit — he’s not worrying about just pulling the ball — and he’s doing some damage.”
Published at Sat, 18 Mar 2017 07:49:09 +0000