Johnson replaces Hudgens; Black called up from Triple-A
NEW YORK -- For three-plus seasons, Dave Hudgens embodied the Mets' hitting philosophy. Shortly after coming aboard as general manager after the 2010 season, Sandy Alderson hired Hudgens to lead New York's offense back to respectability.
With Hudgens unable to do so, the Mets are now turning in a different direction. The team dismissed Hudgens minutes after Monday's loss to the Pirates, replacing him with roving Minor League hitting coordinator Lamar Johnson. The club also released relief pitcher Jose Valverde, recalling right-hander Vic Black from Triple-A Las Vegas.
"This is by no means Dave Hudgens' fault," manager Terry Collins said. "It's about trying to get the execution better, so we'll see if change helps."
"I look it as I had a good opportunity, I did a good job and I made a lot of friends, a lot of great relationships," Hudgens said in a telephone interview Monday evening. "Every one of the players came and gave me a hug and said how sorry they were. I feel good about that. I feel good that I did everything I could possibly do."
The pitching move was expected; Valverde had a 5.66 ERA in 21 appearances, and Black had been performing well despite control issues at Triple-A. The coaching shakeup was less so. Though Hudgens oversaw an offense that ranks at or near the bottom of the league in several major offensive categories, including on-base percentage and slugging, he was the steward of a hitting philosophy that encourages hunting strikes within certain parts of the zone.
The Mets have implemented that system throughout all levels of their organization, rewarding players for following its tenets. But at the Major League level, success has not come. The Mets have scored fewer runs each year in Hudgens' tenure, from 718 in 2011 down to 619 last season. Their strikeout totals increased over that time from 1,085 in '11 to 1,384 last season.
In that sense, as second baseman Daniel Murphy said, Hudgens' dismissal was "a reflection of how we've swung the bats."
"When you struggle the way that we've struggled offensively, the finger obviously gets pointed," third baseman David Wright said. "A lot of times that finger gets pointed pretty unfairly. We as players are the ones up there not getting the job done. Hudge will be the first one to tell you that a lot of that responsibility falls on him, when the truth of the matter is it mostly falls on us."
"This was a very difficult decision to have to make," said Alderson, who worked with Hudgens in Oakland in the 1980s. "I've known Dave for many years, decades. I have tremendous respect for him and his expertise, his work ethic, his personal relationships with players -- just an incredibly hard worker. At the same time, we've had issues home and road, over the last several years, not just this season. Situational hitting is not where we want it to be."
Entering Monday's play, the Mets ranked 23rd in the Majors in runs scored, 25th in batting average, 21st in OBP and 29th in slugging. They scored three runs in Monday's loss to the Pirates, the 12th consecutive game in which they plated five or fewer. Much of that is because the Mets have struggled to convert their best opportunities, ranking 28th in batting average with the bases loaded.
"I was hoping we would see some significant change, perhaps during this homestand," Alderson said. "We've been getting more hits, but situational hitting has not been improved substantially. We're getting people on base, we're not getting them in."
The Mets hope that will all change under Johnson, 63, who has previously served as hitting coach for the Royals (1999-2002), Brewers ('95-98) and Mariners ('03). Johnson is in his 11th season with the Mets and his 10th as the team's roving Minor League hitting instructor.
Yet, how much will transform under Johnson's leadership remains to be seen. Collins called the move "change for the sake of change," and Alderson said that the organization's hitting philosophy will remain intact.
"It's tough to predict the future," Murphy said. "It's sad to see Hudge go. But we've still got a lot of baseball games left."
"I've got a lot of respect for Sandy, so whatever Sandy wants to do, he's going to try to get this thing going in the right direction," said Hudgens, who plans to lay low this summer before reprising his role as a manager in the Venezuelan Winter League. "It's just one of those things that happens in the game."
With Hudgens gone, blame for the Mets' poor start could logically spread to the rest of the staff, including Collins. But Alderson insisted there is no reason to read beyond Hudgens' dismissal. Collins is under contract through 2015.
"Everybody could be next," Collins said, growing emotional minutes after learning of Hudgens' dismissal. "This is part of the game. When you're evaluated, you know where it starts? In the mirror. You know what kind of job you do and you know how you go about your job, and at the end of the day, you know what? If it doesn't work, it doesn't work.
"[Stuff] happens. You deal with it. And if you can't, then you don't belong in the game."