When Lucas Duda broke camp with the New York Mets as their starting right fielder, he figured he would be in the big leagues to stay. Duda may not have been overly comfortable playing defense in right field, an unnatural position for him, but he had succeeded offensively in his previous big-league experience. There was no reason to think that would change.
Six months later, Duda is coming to the end of a season that saw him struggle both offensively and defensively, earn a demotion to the minors and watch his future come into doubt. Duda has been playing every day down the stretch, as he did in Sunday's 6-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves. But there are no guarantees that will continue heading into next year.
"It wasn't the season I wanted to have, getting sent down and things like that," Duda said. "But I'll come back and battle back and see what happens."
The most significant issue for Duda going forward is his lack of an obvious position. A natural first baseman, Duda is blocked there unless the Mets decide to trade Ike Davis, the only 30-homer man in their lineup. But Duda has also struggled at both corner outfield spots when the Mets have tried him there.
Still, if Duda hits, the Mets will find a spot for him. Most important, manager Terry Collins said, will be for Duda to direct his natural power to all fields, turning himself into a gap-to-gap slugger. If he can do that, as he did at times over the weekend in Atlanta, he may finally be able to stick around for good.
"He wanted to prove to us, 'I belong here and I'm going to stay here,'" Collins said. "He's worked so hard at making adjustments at the plate. You like where it is going to head."