Duda playing way back into everyday role

Duda playing way back into everyday role

MIAMI -- When Lucas Duda returned to the Mets this September following a four-month absence, there was a chance he would not be of much use to them. There was a chance Duda's timing at the plate would never reemerge, considering his complete lack of rehab at-bats against even Minor League pitching.

The Mets, simply put, were not expecting much from their one-time cleanup hitter.

But they pushed him, starting Duda almost immediately at first base, then more recently plugging him into the lineup on a near-daily basis. And Duda has responded, doubling home three runs and reaching base four times in Tuesday's 12-1 thumping of the Marlins.

"I don't think anything's really come naturally," Duda said. "It's a work in progress. I think the game speed is probably toughest. Going from rehabbing to here, it's a pretty good jump."

Were there no doubts regarding Duda's health, the question of who plays first base in Flushing would have been easy to answer. One of the Mets' most prolific power hitters since the start of the 2014 season, Duda hit 57 home runs over a two-year span, before sustaining a stress fracture in his lower back early this season. He went on the disabled list in May and, around midsummer, experienced a significant enough setback that it seemed his season was complete.

Then came the renaissance: a surprise return to health, a callup to the Mets and now this. Duda, not James Loney, is starting at first base nearly every day in a pennant race. Over his last four games, Duda is batting .417 with two doubles, four walks and four RBIs.

It is a small sample size, to be sure. But it is nonetheless proof that Duda's timing and bat speed are Major League-caliber.

Now, as the Mets steamroll toward postseason play, it seems clear that Duda -- not Loney -- will be their top option at first base in their most important games to come.

"I'm pretty surprised -- I really am, for not having played for the length of time that he has not played," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "If he's right, you saw it tonight what he can do."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com 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.