Quiet Duda making noise with his bat for Mets

Quiet Duda making noise with his bat for Mets

Quiet Duda making noise with his bat for Mets
NEW YORK -- Lucas Duda isn't much of a public speaker. When the media surrounded him on Friday after he hit his first home run since April 28, teammates Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis scurried to the outskirts of the huddle to watch Duda mumble through his postgame remark.

"Oh, I got to see this," Murphy said, as he smirked like an older brother harassing his younger sibling.

The Mets are currently locked in a series with the Philadelphia Phillies, yet it's the brotherly love in New York's clubhouse that Duda credits for his success on a team that is five games over .500 three days after Memorial Day. Duda is the cleanup hitter on a team that is within 1 1/2 games of Washington in the National League East. He's leading the team with seven home runs and ranks second in RBIs behind David Wright.

"There's a great group of guys in there," Duda said. "Last year was, too, but I think this is kind of a younger core of players that are coming up. We've been together. We've played in Double-A and Triple-A and been on the bus. We've drove for six hours. We've played cards. That's what's kind of brought us together. Having Kirk [Nieuwenhuis] to my right, Davis at first, Murphy at second, it's kind of a comfort thing. Every time those guys get a hit, it feels like you've gotten hit."

What Duda lacks in boisterous personality, he makes up for with his loud bat. In his first full season in the Major Leagues, Duda has earned the respect of his teammates by making his statements with his power. But for many who have known Duda for a while -- such as fellow Minor League teammates Nieuwenhuis, Josh Thole, Dillon Gee and Davis -- there's little surprise at the outfielder's production this season.

"I'd say he's got as much power as anyone on this team," Murphy said. "If you watch him take BP, he's got as much juice as anyone on this team."

For the majority of the season, Duda has been handed the pressure-packed assignment of following Wright in the Mets' batting order. Wright leads the Major Leagues with a .463 on-base percentage, in part helped by a slew of opposing pitchers choosing to pitch around him. Wright's presence on base has given Duda plenty of opportunity to prove himself worthy of manager Terry Collins' confidence.

But Duda hasn't felt the pressure. Murphy said the 26-year-old right fielder has done a good job of keeping unneeded pressure at bay by not allowing the responsibility of hitting behind the NL's leading hitter alter his approach.

"He's hitting the ball well right now, and I'm doing everything I can in the four hole," Duda said. "If he hits a double, I'm trying to move him over and get the job done, whatever it may be."

In a career filled with so much promise, Duda has also had to overcome his fair share of struggles. Tagged as the Mets' organizational player of the year in 2010, Duda initially couldn't find consistency when he was called up to the Major Leagues.

While at times struggling with his offense, Duda's defense was constantly scrutinized as the worst part of his game. He was asked to switch from his natural position at first base, which he played in college at USC, to the outfield. Duda wasn't known for his quickness, and his routes to the ball were subpar due to a lack of experience.

His defensive struggles came to a head on Sept. 3 last season when Duda missed misplayed Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's fly ball to the outfield, diving for what turned out to be a two-run walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.

"It's tough. I'm not a good runner, so my routes have to be pretty precise," Duda said. "I don't have the speed to make up for an incorrect route."

Duda received the opportunity to play every day after the Mets traded Carlos Beltran to the Giants on July 27, 2011. For his first eight games following the trade, he was hitting just .200 with a .267 on base percentage. But that all changed after Duda got a surprise vote of encouragement from USC graduate and former Mets ace Tom Seaver, who told Duda not to be intimidated by his new role.

"I was kind of struggling at that time," Duda said. "In so many words, he said, 'Be yourself.' Last year I kind of came in for Carlos Beltran, and I had to realize I'm not Carlos Beltran. I'm myself. He's a freak of nature. He's a five-, six-time All-Star. He's a Silver Slugger. Just go out there and be yourself, and it worked out for the most part."

In 51 games from July 27 to the end of the 2011 season, Duda finished with a .304 average, nine home runs and 39 RBIs.

Duda homered twice on Wednesday in the Mets' 10-6 loss to the Phillies, his first pair off a left-handed pitcher in his career. In the sixth inning, he hit Cliff Lee's first pitch of the at-bat over the right-center-field wall.

While Duda has gone through his ebbs and flows to start 2012, Collins hopes his right fielder's three-homer week will jump-start his offensive game. Entering Wednesday's game, Duda was hitting .174 in his last 12 games.

But Collins called Wednesday's game encouraging. The Mets' manager attributed Duda's recent struggles to a run in with several quality left-handed pitchers over the Mets' 20-game stretch without an off-day.

"Lucas Duda, although he hits lefties, he doesn't mash them," Collins said. "Certainly off Cliff [Lee], a big swing for him. If we can get him going, our lineup is going to change immensely."

Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.