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Conforto does it with bat, glove to propel Mets

Center fielder goes 4-for-4 with go-ahead hit, makes run-saving grab
@AnthonyDiComo
July 17, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- In sum, Michael Conforto's Tuesday night included four hits, a run scored, an RBI and a leaping, run-saving catch in the Mets’ 3-2 win over the Twins at Target Field. It was the type of game that occurs only so often even in the best of seasons. Conforto’s

MINNEAPOLIS -- In sum, Michael Conforto's Tuesday night included four hits, a run scored, an RBI and a leaping, run-saving catch in the Mets’ 3-2 win over the Twins at Target Field. It was the type of game that occurs only so often even in the best of seasons.

Conforto’s personal highlight? A 58.9 mph ground ball.

“The weak one that found a hole,” he said, grinning.

Box score

Call it a single in the box score, just the same as his other three. While it may not have reached the grass had the Twins, in a tie game in the fifth, not shifted him to pull, Conforto chalked the single up to more than luck. Mired in a slump in the weeks leading into the All-Star break, Conforto said he may not have been able to hold his bat back long enough to ground the ball the other way.

“And obviously the fact that it gave us the lead is huge as well,” Conforto said.

It was a lead the Mets were able to take thanks in large part to Conforto, who singled and scored in the first inning, then crashed into the left-center-field wall to rob Nelson Cruz of a game-tying extra-base hit in the third. That, too, Conforto credited to hard work, given that he’s spent most of midsummer reacclimating to an unnatural position in center.

The four-hit game was the third of Conforto’s career, and his first in over a year, increasing his season slash line to .251/.364/.475 with 17 homers and 17 doubles. Included within have been hot streaks, such as a torrid 10-game stretch to start the season, and cold snaps, most recently a 1-for-24 spell late last month.

“It’s been up and down a little bit -- a little more down lately,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “But I think you’re going to look up at the end, and I think we all agree with this, you’re going to see a pretty good season out of Michael Conforto. That’s kind of his MO.”

Consider the bottom line crucial for a Mets team counting on Conforto not just this season, but in 2020 and beyond. Both publicly and privately, team officials have maintained that they have no interest in blowing up the Mets’ core prior to the July 31 Trade Deadline. A few deals at the margins make sense as the club tries to find value for its impending free agents, but general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has little intention of trading anyone who can provide value in 2020.

That includes Pete Alonso, of course, as well as Jacob deGrom and Jeff McNeil -- the Mets’ three All-Stars. It also means Conforto, an All-Star himself two seasons ago. Until Tuesday, Conforto had been the quietest member of the Mets’ nucleus, offering reasonable production with a fair bit of streakiness.

Perhaps a weak ground ball is just the tonic a slumping Conforto needed.

“That’s what we’re trying to do,” he said. “We won the game. It was a great team win … so we’re hoping to build on that.”

Diaz survives

Closer Edwin Díaz gave the Mets another scare in the ninth inning, loading the bases with two outs before popping up Cruz to end the game. After striking out the leadoff batter with a one-run lead in the ninth, Diaz walked rookie Luis Arraez on 11 pitches, then allowed a pair of singles -- one hard hit, the other a soft dribbler with two outs -- before retiring Cruz.

Diaz was at risk of blowing his fifth save in his last 13 chances, though the successful conversion was his third straight.

“I felt great today,” Diaz said through an interpreter, brushing aside talk of his struggles. “Today was one of those days where I felt like I was able to execute all my pitches, the fastball, the slider.”

Starting again

Tuesday’s start was the first in 18 days for Steven Matz, who temporarily moved to the bullpen before the All-Star break. As such, the Mets imposed a limit of 75-80 pitches for him, and removed Matz after only 68 due to the stress of his innings. From the second through the fourth innings, seven of the 11 balls the Twins put in play against Matz were hit at least 100 mph.

Still, Matz came away pleased with his return to the rotation.

“I definitely wasn’t as sharp as I’d like to be, but I felt great out there,” he said. “I felt comfortable. I was attacking guys, so it was good.”

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.