Duda's turnaround vs. lefties continues with 2 homers
Mets slugger consulted with former first baseman, current broadcaster Hernandez
NEW YORK -- Sometime this winter, Lucas Duda reached out to the best first baseman in Mets history looking for advice.
Duda sought out Keith Hernandez, he of 11 Gold Gloves, for pointers about playing the position. Later on a backfield in Port St. Lucie, Fla., the pair worked on fielding before drifting naturally to the batting cage. That's where a conversation took place that helped transform Duda from the lumbering slugger of past years into the more complete hitter he is today.
"I just imparted to him some thoughts on the tendencies of left-handers that I learned over 17 years," said Hernandez. "What left-handers like to do, what they're trying to do."
What they've been trying -- and failing -- to do all season is to get Duda out. In a turnaround that admittedly surpassed even Hernandez's expectations, the lefty-swinging Duda is now hitting .409 in 44 at-bats against southpaws after belting two home runs in Thursday's 5-0 win over St. Louis.
This comes in comparison to Duda's .229 career average against lefties, and stark contrast with the perception that persisted early throughout Duda's career -- that he had to be hidden from them.
Though he appeared in 153 games in 2014, Duda platooned regularly with righty-swinging Eric Campbell and Josh Satin. For comparison, Duda got 35 fewer at-bats against lefties than Daniel Murphy, in just four fewer games. The chances against lefties came sporadically, and Duda struggled to a .180 average. Only two of his 30 home runs came against left-handers.
He matched that number in Thursday's game alone by taking Jaime Garcia and Randy Choate deep in consecutive at-bats.
"He's playing against them now. He's not sitting," said Mets manager Terry Collins. "He's the one who said, 'I can hit lefties. I always have hit lefties.'"
Out of seven career multihomer games for Duda, Thursday marked just the second time he's hit both homers off lefties. He previously accomplished the feat on May 30, 2012, against Cliff Lee and Raul Valdes.
Duda's home runs Thursday were tracked by Statcast™ at 435 feet and 427 feet, respectively. The blast off Garcia in the sixth inning left his 34 1/2-inch bat -- one of the largest on the team -- at 107 mph.
"It's like a shotgun off his bat," said Michael Cuddyer. "Too many times that phrase, 'It's a different sound off his bat' gets thrown around. With him it's like a deep [boom] -- like an explosion off his bat."
Credit Collins for allowing Duda the opportunity to improve into a complete hitter. The Mets' offense doesn't always go, but when it does, Duda is now typically at the center of it. Earlier this season, Duda made a slight habit out of deflecting praise of his new-found success against lefties.
"Sample size, sample size," he said.
The sample size continues to grow. And Duda continues to hit.
"You learn from your experiences. If you don't, you're going to be getting a real job some day," Hernandez said. "He's doing it. It's all his experience. And he's going to get better. You're seeing it now."