CLEVELAND -- Like just about everything in Michael Conforto's fledgling career, his promotion to the heart of New York's batting order has come sooner than expected. Within weeks of Conforto's advancement to the Majors last summer, which itself occurred when he was barely a year removed from college, Conforto took his first hacks as the Mets' No. 3 hitter.
He returned to that role Friday in Cleveland, perhaps for good. Finishing 5-for-12 with four extra-base hits in the three-game series, including a pair of RBI doubles in Sunday's 6-0 victory, Conforto earned himself continued plate appearances wedged between David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes.
"I never had any nervousness about it," Conforto said. "It kind of felt natural."
All his life, Conforto says, he has hit third. In high school, he hit third. At Oregon State, he hit third. During a brief tour of the lower Minors, he mostly hit third. So doing so in the big leagues never seemed that different to Conforto, particularly considering the support he received from veteran teammates in the clubhouse. Outside of a few extra fastballs in front of Cespedes, Conforto doesn't see much of a difference on the field, either.
"I wouldn't say it's intimidating," Conforto said. "I'd say it's exciting. Anytime you're in the heart of the lineup, in a spot where you can do some damage and drive in some runs, I think that's really exciting. For me, it's been that way."
Since results have come quickly, the Mets will stick with this alignment for now against right-handed pitchers. Conforto will again bat third when the Mets open up a three-game series against the Phillies on Monday, anchoring an offense that is finally starting to roll; the Mets scored 17 runs in three games in Cleveland, after plating a total of eight over their previous five games.
For Conforto, some obstacles do still exist before he can fully enter manager Terry Collins' innermost circle of trust. With a six-run lead in the seventh inning Sunday, for example, Collins pinch-hit Juan Lagares for Conforto against left-handed Indians reliever Ross Detwiler. Though the move had more to do with finding Lagares some playing time, it hinted at Collins' continued hesitation to use Conforto against southpaws until he proves he can hit them -- chicken, meet egg.
Yet if Conforto can continue to shine in the middle of New York's order, opportunities should continue coming regardless of the opposition.
"I think that's where he's going to end up hitting one of these days, full time against everybody," Collins said of the three hole. "We thought he was swinging the bat good. We think he's been getting on base. So we just said, 'Hey, look, maybe it's time to put him there and see if he can springboard the offense a little bit,' and it paid off in this series."