Conforto takes advantage of rare start with key hit

After up-and-down year, Mets outfielder had 8 plate appearances in past 12 days

Conforto takes advantage of rare start with key hit

NEW YORK -- There was a time not so long ago when Michael Conforto ranked among the most important Mets. A fan favorite from the day he arrived last July, Conforto buoyed the Mets down the stretch and even in October -- remember those World Series home runs? -- before twice earning Minor League demotions this season.

Though Conforto returned in September, the Mets have made it clear that at least for now, he is no longer a central part of their postseason hunt. So it was a boon for Conforto when, given a rare start in right field Sunday, his two-run single in the first inning led the Mets to a 3-2 win over the Twins.

"Of all the at-bats today, that was probably the biggest one that this team had," manager Terry Collins said. "This guy is a huge piece of the team and certainly of the future. We have got to get his confidence back."

That's been difficult for Conforto considering his lack of opportunity; before Sunday, he had not started a game since Sept. 5, piling up just eight plate appearances over the previous 12 days. But opportunity smacked Conforto in the face in the first inning at Citi Field where, batting cleanup, he came to the plate with the bases loaded and no outs.

Conforto told himself not to try to drill a Kyle Gibson pitch over the fence. Instead, he swung at a fastball near the outer edge of the plate, lifting it into center field to plate two runs.

"A few months ago, I probably would have rolled it over," Conforto said, "It was a big one for me."

One 2-for-4 afternoon in a pennant chase won't change much for Conforto, who still sits behind Yoenis Cespedes, Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce and even Alejandro De Aza on the Mets' depth chart. In truth, Conforto will be fortunate simply to snag a bench spot on the postseason roster.

But the Mets are nonetheless eager for Conforto to prove he can still hit big league pitching after raking at Triple-A Las Vegas for large chunks of the summer, batting .422 with nine home runs in 33 games. So far, that hasn't translated back into the type of big league success he experienced last summer: a .270 average with nine home runs in 56 games.

With Cespedes likely to opt out of his contract following the season, Conforto may again become a significant part of the Mets' plans. Even a little bit of September success could ease the organization's mind about it.

"I think today helped him for sure," Collins said. "Moving forward, I think we've got to consider all the pieces we have."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.