WASHINGTON -- Once doctors cleared Michael Conforto to play baseball, the Mets gave their star outfielder a choice. He could go on a Minor League rehab assignment, spending a few days refining his swing after a long winter of shoulder rehab. Or he could come to Washington to face Stephen
WASHINGTON -- Once doctors cleared Michael Conforto to play baseball, the Mets gave their star outfielder a choice. He could go on a Minor League rehab assignment, spending a few days refining his swing after a long winter of shoulder rehab. Or he could come to Washington to face Stephen Strasburg, a three-time All-Star and one of baseball's best pitchers.
"He wanted Strasburg," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said.
Believing he had already proven everything he could against Minor League pitching, Conforto wanted to face the best. And perhaps some in the Mets' dugout regretted that decision for a short while, watching Strasburg set down Conforto on three pitches to lead off Thursday's game at Nationals Park. Three times in two at-bats, Conforto swung through Strasburg fastballs, grounding into a routine double play in his second plate appearance.
It didn't last. By his third at-bat, Conforto was primed, launching a Strasburg sinker just over the left-field wall for a tiebreaking, two-run homer in the Mets' 8-2 win over the Nationals.
"I made a joke that his first two at-bats were his rehab," teammate Jay Bruce said, "and his third at-bat he was ready."
A key part of the Mets the past two seasons, Conforto dislocated his left shoulder and tore a capsule inside it on a swing last August. While Conforto could have attempted to rehab the injury, he opted for surgery in the hopes of eradicating any lingering shoulder weakness.
The resulting seven-month rehab program put Conforto on track for around a May 1 return, but he passed every one of his Spring Training tests without issue, even making his way into Grapefruit League games at the end of camp. When the Mets departed Florida, Conforto stayed behind to receive some extra at-bats and outfield reps, returning to New York last Sunday night.
"I had to make sure that my body felt ready and I felt like I was in a place where I could perform," Conforto said. "I feel like I'm at that point. I just felt like I needed to get in some big league games and play against the type of competition that I feel like I'm going to need to perform against."
That meant folks like Strasburg, who attacked Conforto with fastballs early in Thursday's game, forcing him to speed up his swing.
"I'm sure that Strasburg knows that he hasn't faced a ton of live pitching in this setting, and just went right after him," Callaway said. "A really good adjustment by Conforto."
If Conforto can do that sort of thing regularly against the National League's top pitchers, the Mets will be glad for the help. No Met was more efficient at hitting the ball out of the park last year than Conforto, who slugged 27 home runs in 440 plate appearances, also batting .279 to make the NL All-Star team. But he hadn't hit one out since Aug. 21, three days before his shoulder popped.
Thursday, Conforto earned his bit of delayed gratification. Umpires initially ruled his home run a double, consulting replay before allowing Conforto to jog the final 180 feet.
As he did, Conforto reveled in the knowledge that if he can still do it against Strasburg, he can probably still do it against just about anyone.
"It was a great feeling," Conforto said "And I guess, yeah, you do kind of reflect a little bit just how long it's been to do that. It's been eight months, nine months now since I've done that in a Major League game, so it felt great. Hopefully, there's lots more of them."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.