MIAMI -- Depending on the game situation, Mike Baxter typically steps into an indoor batting cage in the fourth or fifth inning, warming with a series of soft toss swings from strength coach Brad Andress. Baxter then takes anywhere from 40-50 swings in the cage during a full-blown batting practice session, preparing for his inevitable pinch-hit appearance.
"It's all about when I get that feel," Baxter said. "Maybe I take more swings if it's not right. Maybe less if it is."
Lately, at least, it's been right more often than not. Baxter has thrived this season in a role usually reserved for veterans, going 6-for-15 with three walks, three doubles and five RBIs as the Mets' primary left-handed pinch-hitter. His latest coup was a two-run double Friday, which gave the Mets their first lead in the eighth inning and nearly won them the game.
"Mike's done a great job," manager Terry Collins said. "It is such a tough position for a young player who is used to playing every day and getting four at-bats a game, to spend your day thinking, 'Hey, look, I've got to build up to one at-bat.' Which, a lot of times, the game may be riding on that one single at-bat."
For the reasons Collins mentioned, the best pinch-hitters are usually veterans who know their swings, understand their roles and recognize what they must do to thrive in limited playing time -- not a 27-year-old career Minor Leaguer like Baxter. But Baxter has picked up some tips along the way from third-base coach Tim Teufel, who pinch-hit often toward the end of his own playing career.
Thanks in part to his preparation, the job is coming naturally to Baxter.
"It's my role," Baxter said. "And I'm glad to have a role. I'm trying to do the best I can with it and take it literally one at-bat at a time. In a pinch-hitting role, that's all you can do."