It was nothing special; just a groundball single up the middle by Lucas Duda. It’s something he’s done thousands of times, but the single he recorded in yesterday’s Grapefruit League game against the St. Louis Cardinals may mean a lot more to Duda and his confidence than he’ll ever let on.
With last year being the perfect example, we saw how fragile Duda’s confidence can be. Although he came off a 2011 season in which he made significant strides at the Major League level with the bat (.290/.370/.482 w/ 10 HR and 50 RBI), he often questioned himself as to whether or not he belonged where he was, which is what led him to struggle to a .239 batting average last season with the Mets, including one demotion to Triple-A. The pressure was on him to produce behind David Wright and Ike Davis, and he didn’t live up to expectations.
It may have not made much sense at the time, Yogi Berra said it best:
“Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.”
Now, it’s up to Duda to show how much he’s matured mentally from last season; he’s already been penciled in by Terry Collins as the team’s starting left fielder, and once again, he’s expected to produce in the middle of the lineup. He’s received a lot of extra instruction from hitting coach Dave Hudgens, as they’ve worked to make changes to his swing, becoming more compact and eliminating some movement. He would need plenty of spring at-bats to truly get comfortable with these adjustments, so one would think he was excited to get on the field and see some results.
Then came last weekend: 0-for-7 with six strikeouts. He looked so bad at the plate that he and Collins needed to have a long talk, which resulted in Duda taking a few more days off to hit in the cage because the timing wasn’t there yet. These first two Spring Training games may not mean much, but I remember how important it was for my confidence to get off to a good start (whether it was exhibition or regular season), especially when I changed my approach at the plate. So, when I saw Duda struggle like he did, I was already on high alert for him to start doubting himself, fearing he would fall into the same abyss from 2012.
I’m thankful Collins decided to pull him from the lineup and give him a couple extra days with Hudgens in the cage. As a coach, it’s important to know when the right time is to let a player take their lumps and when is not, especially when their confidence level is delicate. Having Duda struggle during Grapefruit League play while still getting accustomed to his adjusted swing was not the time to leave him in the trenches taking grenades.
After hitting the reset button earlier this week, he goes out yesterday afternoon and puts the ball right back through the box for a single. He eventually suffered another strikeout, but now he can at least take away something positive from the game, instead of seeing all negative. There is some progress made and he can see that what he’s doing could actually work.
For Duda, the ability is there; we’ve seen it and know what he’s capable of. Now, it’s up to him to have the constant inner confidence to succeed. So, back to my original question: what can one hit do for Lucas Duda’s confidence? Hopefully, it means we’re about to see the start of him blossoming into a solid Major League hitter.