Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann thought he threw an unhittable pitch.
But these days, Lucas Duda is hitting everything.
“It was up and in for a ball and somehow he kept it fair,” Zimmermann said of the ball Duda mashed down the line for a two-run homer — one of three home runs the Mets hit in the third inning. “I’m not really sure how it’s physically possible to hit that ball where I put it. I put it right where I wanted to … he’s probably the hottest guy in baseball right now. For him to hit the ball where he did where it was located, just got to tip your cap.”
Lots of caps have been tipped toward Duda, who has been unreal of late. His 21st homer Sunday in the Mets’ 5-2 victory was his ninth in eight games — the most by any player since the All-Star break.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Duda joins Jason Bay (2006) and Josh Hamilton (2012) and the only players in the past decade to have nine homers in eight games. What got into him?
“I still think … when Kelly [Johnson] and Juan [Uribe] showed up, he said, ‘This is my job and I’m keeping it,’ ” manager Terry Collins theorized. “He didn’t have to change his approach or anything he does in his swing. He just had to say, ‘This is mine’ and he did that.”
Said Duda, “It’s just a matter of whether I’m 0-for-50 or 50-for 50, I’m going to attack it the same way and go out and prepare the same. Go have fun and whatever happens, happens.”
Collins never imagined he’d regularly be benching his reigning Gold Glove center fielder, but after spending most of the season with an offense befitting Binghamton, the Mets manager never could have expected to have so many more appealing alternatives. So for the second straight day and the fifth time in seven games, Juan Lagares was left out of the Mets’ starting lineup, replaced by Yoenis Cespedes in center. With the Mets’ offensive upgrades, Collins finally feels comfortable making the much-needed move, having watched Lagares hit .183 (19-for-104) over his past 30 games.
“He’s really struggling. He knows it and he’s worked hard at it,” Collins said. “But we’ve reached a stage where we have to score some runs. And so we’re not in the position to put someone in there just to go catch the baseball.”
Collins said Lagares could start one of the upcoming games against the Marlins if a left-hander starts against them.
“I haven’t given up on Juan Lagares [but] we just reached the point where, ‘Hey, we made a decision here. We’ve got to score,’’ Collins said. “And we said, ‘You’ve got to start hitting … and these guys we’ve brought in, if you’re not going to hit, they’re going to play.’
“Well, there’s one way to change it.”
Michael Conforto was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas Saturday to make room for Cespedes. But Conforto never made it to the airport as the Mets suspected there might be a problem with Kirk Nieuwenhuis. The suspicions proved correct as Nieuwenhuis was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday due to left neck and shoulder discomfort.
Of Nieuwenhuis, Collins said his condition “is bad enough he can’t play. That’s bad enough for me. He got a shot two days ago and anytime you get an injection, it’s 48 hours. And after 48 hours, they said he will either be fine or then we’ll know where we’re at. He came in today and they put him through some stuff and he wasn’t able to do it.”
— Additional reporting by Howie Kussoy