Canha stays ready to break out with 4-RBI performance

June 1st, 2023

NEW YORK -- In the later innings on Tuesday, Buck Showalter meandered across the Mets’ dugout to chat with Mark Canha, who had not appeared in two of the team’s previous four games. That was a trend. Slumping for much of the early season, Canha had seen a steady degradation of his playing time. On the nights he did play, Canha was tumbling down Showalter’s batting order. The manager wanted to check his pulse.

True to his personality, Canha shrugged off the approach. He told Showalter he was doing just fine because the Mets were winning. When the manager assured him he would return to the lineup on Wednesday, Canha replied simply: “OK.”

“Mark is low-maintenance, because he does everything to stay ready,” Showalter said the following evening, after Canha broke out with by far his best performance of the season. “Nights like tonight don’t surprise anybody.”

Nights like Wednesday are the reason why the Mets signed Canha to be an everyday player in a star-studded lineup. Producing in a way he had yearned to for weeks, Canha drove home all four Mets runs in a 4-1 win over the Phillies at Citi Field. He homered off Aaron Nola in his first at-bat. He laced a two-run single to the opposite field in the fourth. He paced the offense on a night in which the team’s top six hitters finished 2-for-22, and he reacted to it all with, essentially, a shrug.

“You work and you work and you work, and I feel like a lot of games throughout the course of the season are OK games -- a little bit good, a little bit bad,” Canha said. “But then those really good ones, they happen once in a while. It’s like, ‘That’s why you put in the work.’”

For Canha, putting in the work has meant countless hours in the cage with hitting coaches Jeremy Barnes and Eric Hinske. On Tuesday, Canha showed up around noon to take extra swings; he often logs heavy work on days he knows he’s not in the lineup.

There was, after all, much to improve. Entering this season, one of Canha’s individual goals was to add power to his game. A prolific home run hitter during stretches with the A’s, Canha went deep just 13 times during his first year with the Mets -- his lowest full-season total in half a decade. He knew he was capable of more.

The dawn of this season brought much of the same. Struggling to put the ball over the fence, Canha more recently had begun scuffling in general, falling to eighth in the Mets’ lineup (when he was in it at all) and entering Wednesday’s play with a .233/.318/.360 slash line.

That’s what made Canha’s 2-for-3, four-RBI performance so notable. In one night, he drove home more runs than he had in his previous 23 games combined.

“I’m trying to grab onto something that’s real and something that’s tangible, something that’s sustainable throughout the course of the year,” Canha said. “I feel like I’ve been building toward that.”

So, too, are the Mets, who have now won seven in a row at home and 16 of their past 20 games vs. the Phillies, one of their main competitors for NL East supremacy. Most notably, the team’s rotation is rounding into shape, with Carlos Carrasco the latest starter to fall into line. Making his third start since returning from the injured list, Carrasco breezed through six innings with what he said was his sharpest fastball of the season. So pleased was Carrasco with his outing that when he finished the sixth inning, he hid in the clubhouse bathroom in hopes that Showalter would let him stay in the game.

“But he found me,” Carrasco said with a laugh.

Showalter tends to know where to look. He understands his players. Earlier this season, when the Mets called up Mark Vientos from Triple-A Syracuse, the manager summoned Canha and several others into his office to discuss how the move would affect their playing time. In typical Canha fashion, he shrugged off the meeting, assuring his manager that he was fine with whatever best served the team’s needs.

One strong game isn’t going to change that logjam. Canha’s at-bats aren’t likely to increase much anytime soon. But if he begins to do more with them on a regular basis, the entire look of Showalter’s lineup could nonetheless transform.

“You never know when it’s going to click,” Canha said. “There’s a lot of good things happening, so I think we just kind of keep our heads down and keep this intangible vibe -- whatever we’ve got going on here, it’s a good thing.”