Conforto taking advantage of expanded role

Conforto taking advantage of expanded role

NEW YORK -- It's 2016 at Citi Field, and Michael Conforto's walk-up music hasn't changed. He isn't thrilled that R&B smash The Weeknd's sultry last-summer hit, "The Hills," still blasts through the speakers before his at bats, productive though they've been. And if Mets employees don't listen to Conforto and change it soon, he'll be hearing way more of it in the months to come.

The second-year outfielder is due to receive more at bats this season than he did in 2015, and not just because this week marked the start of his first full season. It's the types of at-bats, the ones he didn't receive last year, which should heighten his responsibility, profile and sample size going forward. The fourth of Conforto's day Friday, which he used to shoot a two-run single into right in the Mets' 7-2 win, serves as a pertinent example.

With the Mets up three and runners on second and third in the seventh inning, manager Terry Collins let Conforto hit against Phillies lefty James Russell. Russell is a 6-foot-4 lefty who relies heavily on his slider and has held left-handed hitters to a .246 average over his career. The Mets shielded Conforto from such lefties last season, allowing him just 14 at-bats in more than two months (he hit .214). That Collins sent Conforto to face Russell shows that things are different now, and that Conforto delivered -- capping a 2-for-3, three-RBI home-opener debut -- suggests they may stay that way.

Conforto's RBI double

"This was a particular situation in the game where I thought he could hit," Collins said. "He's a fast learner."

Collins conceded that he plans to start Juan Lagares often against left-handed pitching, but that's more due to Lagares' extreme splits than worries about holes in Conforto's skill set. The Mets are confident Conforto will develop into a complete hitter due to his projectable gap-to-gap approach and unflappable demeanor. The strategy to slowly expose him to more and more lefties -- or, at least, to not shun him from southpaws -- will allow Conforto to build confidence. It also lets the Mets avoid underutilizing Lagares.

"You always have to be expecting to be in the game and get those opportunities," Conforto said. "I'll prepare every game to get those matchup and be the guy up there."

As for the walk-up music: He may have to get used to it.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.