After being sent down, d'Arnaud on the upswing
Young Mets catcher tears it up at Triple-A, homers in return to Majors
NEW YORK -- And speaking of errors in judgment, Scott Kazmir pitched against the Mets on Tuesday night. His presence on a mound in Queens finally occurred 12 years, four teams and most of a career later. Despite a 9-2 record and a 2.08 ERA, Kazmir arrived with considerably less fanfare than what existed in the summer of 2002 when he made his first appearance in the Mets' home -- Shea Stadium -- shortly after he had signed a contract with the club that selected him in the first round of the Draft.
Kazmir's departure Tuesday night, after three inglorious and highly unusual innings -- the Mets scored as many runs against him as they had in any of their 36 home games this year -- was without fanfare, but with incredulous reactions from those in attendance at the Big Citi. But the inexplicable happens so often in this game. The bounce of the baseball is more fickle than the bounce of any football. Proof: Bartolo Colon has hits in successive games, and Chris Young twice hit home runs Tuesday. Former Pirates and Astros manager Bill Virdon long ago provided explanation for the how and why of such unexpected development in two words -- "hidden gibberish."
Who can argue with that?
In 2002, Kazmir was characterized as "part of the Mets' future," but in a tad more than two years, the team was in his rearview mirror and, through no fault of his own, he became the poster boy for big league misjudgment. He was young and strong-armed. The Mets made a mistake, not one of Nolan Ryan proportions. But dealing Kazmir became a regretted move. And we're still waiting for Rick Peterson's 10-minute repair of Victor Zambrano, the unremarkable pitcher the Mets obtained for a left-handed 20-year-old.
It happens to the best of 'em; the best general managers sometimes stub their toes in the trade market. When John Schuerholz was the Royals' GM, he traded David Cone. Oops. Paul Owens allowed Ryne Sandberg to escape the Phillies. GM GMS -- general manager George Michael Steinbrenner -- gave away Fred McGriff. And one of these days, Detroit's Dave Dombrowski might make a mistake, too. Might.
We don't know what to make of the trade Mets general manager Sandy Alderson executed in December 2012, the one that exported R.A. Dickey and others and imported, most notably, Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard. The three-for-four exchange between the Mets and Blue Jays hasn't significantly favored either franchise to this point. But Dickey is 39, d'Arnaud is 25 and Syndergaard is 21. Calendar advantage to the Mets.
Syndergaard's arrival may not happen this summer as expected. Injury and command issues have eliminated some of the luster that formed on his right arm in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in March. And the trajectory of d'Arnaud's career is difficult to anticipate. Why, in the last three weeks, he has hit so poorly at the big league level that he lost his big league status, then he crushed pitches in Triple-A to such a degree that he warranted promotion Tuesday. Then, d'Arnaud struck out in his first at-bat and hit a three-run home run in his second.
Demotion, promotion, commotion and lots of emotion.
"I was feeling pretty good, just coming back here," d'Arnaud said after the game."Then everything worked. It was great. Can't get much happier than I am now."
So now, as we wait for Syndergaard to make his pitches behave, for Matt Harvey to recover and for Juan Lagares and Dillon Gee to complete their rehab assignments, we can monitor the young catcher. In late summer, we can begin to envision what the Mets of 2015 might be.
More than half of this the season remains, and the rest of the division is mostly unimpressive. But the Mets won't be equipped unless Alderson makes a move for a bat that will have immediate results. Don't get used to victories with 11-5 and 10-1 scores. The Mets' last two games have been aberrations.
The current crew must win 63.5 percent of its 85 remaining games to meet Alderson's 90-victory challenge-prediction. Even the A's, with the highest winning percentage in the game, haven't approached the .635 percentage that would satisfy Alderson's forecast.
It was gratifying to see d'Arnaud succeed in such a smashing way in his first game back. As Joe Torre used to say about another Mets catcher, John Stearns, "He wants so bad to be so good." Same with this guy. As a receiver, d'Arnaud appears properly equipped. But the word on him had been that his ultra-quick bat would make him a hitter who catches rather than a catcher who hits. After the trade, word was d'Arnaud was not an error in judgment.
Can a 16-day Triple-A deployment -- .436 average with 16 RBIs in 15 games -- have as much impact as one game suggests? Of course not.
"But it could have helped him find his swing and confidence," Keith Hernandez said Tuesday afternoon.
Hernandez was speaking from personal experience. The Cardinals brought him to the big leagues in August 1974 and made him their Opening Day first baseman the following year. By June 4 though, Hernandez carried his .203 batting average and "two tons of self doubt" to Triple-A Tulsa. He became an SCU (September callup) and batted .350 in 60 final-month at-bats.
"It did me a world of good going down," Hernandez said. "When I was with the big league team, [coach] Harry Walker wanted me to go the other way with everything. When I got to Tulsa, [manager] Kenny Boyer said, 'You pull everything.' He got me straightened out."
The Mets did nothing so dramatic with d'Arnaud, only a few subtle adjustments. There was no Mutt Mantle psychology. The pep talk came from Wally Backman. The club left it to d'Arnaud to clear his head and simplify the process.
"As simple as I've made it now," he said, "times that by 100. That how messed up I was."
D'Arnaud had become an "I had too much to think last night" batter. "Analysis causes paralysis," players used to say. So d'Arnaud purged it all. "See the ball, hit the ball." And now, even without a big league pitch from Syndergaard, the trade again has a chance to favor the Mets.
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.