NEW YORK -- The league leader in games played at catcher, Martin Maldonado, has appeared in 135 of them for the Angels. Only one other backstop, Yadier Molina, has donned catcher's gear at least 130 times. Fourteen teams, including the playoff-bound Indians, Red Sox and Astros, do not employ a catcher who has played 100 games at the position.
Such is the reality of baseball's most demanding position in 2017. The days of Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter starting almost every night behind the plate are long since gone, likely never to return. So the Mets feel they have tapped into something important late this season, riding Travis d'Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki to productive Septembers. The latter socked a two-run homer Tuesday and sparked the Mets' game-winning rally in a walk-off, 4-3 victory over the Braves.
"It could be the competition that's doing it," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I certainly know that Kevin went down [to the Minors] bound and determined to come back and play better than when he was here the first time, and he's done that on both sides of the ball. And Travis -- I think Travis, to be honest, certainly the rest and some days off have helped. But together, they've put up some nice numbers here in the last six weeks."
Since returning from his Minor League demotion in mid-August, Plawecki is batting .303 with three home runs in 23 games, also grading highly for his work behind the plate. Despite slipping into a true time share at that point, d'Arnaud has improved his batting average 20 points and his OPS more than 100, hitting six home runs and seven doubles in 26 games.
It is an arrangement the Mets intend to use next summer, perhaps even for a full season if this trend continues.
"I do believe if you can give your 'A' guy enough days off, he'll be more effective," Collins said.
Several teams already use this strategy to significant effect, and it seems particularly apt for the Mets given d'Arnaud's history of injuries. But a timeshare is only viable if Plawecki hits, something the 26-year-old had never done consistently until this season. Although the Mets are wary of placing too much stock in September statistics, they believe they see genuine changes in Plawecki's swing and demeanor since his return.
It helps, also, that neither player is envious of the other's at-bats. The two are good friends -- Plawecki will be in d'Arnaud's wedding party this offseason -- who spend ample time together away from the park.
But for the Mets, production is what matters most.
"We work well together," Plawecki said. "Whether it's giving each other a break here and there and feeling fresh, we kind of feed off each other in a sense. It's good to see for both of us. … Hopefully we can just continue to finish that out in the last four games, and see what happens next year."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.