Outfielder, squeezed out by Bruce, Granderson, Cespedes, singles and homers in opener
By Anthony DiComo
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There are but a handful of roles up for grabs at Mets camp this spring. One rotation job. Two bullpen gigs, at most. And one outfield spot that may or may not be Michael Conforto's to claim.
Capable -- maybe -- of forcing his way onto the Opening Day roster with a strong spring, Conforto began immediately with a home run and an opposite-field single Friday in the Mets' 3-2 win over the Red Sox in their Grapefruit League debut.
"That's the start we were looking for," Conforto said. "It's Game 1 and I definitely want to get off on the right foot. It felt good to get a couple hits and put some runs on the board."
Conforto's home run off Kyle Kendrick was a no-doubter, clanging into the Mets' bullpen in right field with one out in the third. But it was his single two innings earlier that proved equally eye-opening to manager Terry Collins, coming off hard-throwing left-hander Henry Owens. Conforto shortened his swing to punch the ball into right field, moving Juan Lagares from first to third base. Lagares later scored on a Wilmer Flores fielder's choice.
"It's definitely something that I need to work on, and I'm looking forward to that opportunity," Conforto said of his approach against left-handers, who held him to a .104/.170/.125 slash line last season. "I was happy to get that hit in the first at-bat. I was happy to get that first one and I was happy as a left-hander, starting [against a left-hander]. That's a good opportunity for me, and I'm looking forward to getting more of them."
Afterward, Collins lavished praise on a swing he called "much, much better than I saw last year."
"I know he worked hard last winter to rekindle that old swing, and it looks like he's got it," the manager said.
But even a perfect Spring Training, Collins admitted, might not be enough for Conforto to make the team. The Mets' inability to trade Jay Bruce this winter created an overcrowded outfield situation, with Bruce, Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson locked into the three starting spots. Lagares is the Mets' clear fourth option, leaving one job for Conforto, Brandon Nimmo or another spring surprise.
The Mets could simply hand that role to Conforto, just one year removed from hitting .270 with nine home runs in 56 games as a rookie. Or they could instead send him back to Triple-A Las Vegas, hoping to give him everyday at-bats in the event an injury turns him into a starter in New York.
All Conforto can do now is prove he belongs -- a process he started Friday in the only way he knows how.
"I don't feel the pressure," Conforto said. "My job is just to go out there and work hard, work on things that I know I need to work on, and just be a better player at the end of spring. Stay healthy. I wouldn't say I'm really feeling that pressure. I think I just need to go out there and play the game, have fun, and the rest will take care of itself."
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.