NEW YORK -- As the season wears on, managers of opposing clubs continue to approach Terry Collins with the same question: "What happened to Lucas Duda?"
The Mets are still searching for the answer themselves. So strong over the first two and a half months of the season, Duda scuffled around the All-Star break, fell to Triple-A Buffalo and has been stuck there since.
But no longer. Duda will return to the big leagues in time for Sunday's game against the Astros, the team announced Saturday afternoon, with a corresponding move coming in the morning.
He will not be here to sit on the bench. According to Collins, Duda should play most days in left field down the stretch. He will also sub for Ike Davis at first base on occasion, giving Duda plenty of opportunities to position himself for a starting job next spring.
But offensive results are no guarantee. Duda is hitting just .260 in Buffalo with three home runs in 96 at-bats, production comparable to that of his time with the Mets. He entered Saturday's play in a 5-for-23 slump.
"He's had some good games in Buffalo and he's had some games that are similar to what we saw here," Collins said. "But they tell me they thought he's made some improvements, and we're certainly anxious to get him back, because I still think he's a threat in the middle of the lineup."
Duda certainly was for a long stretch, ranking second on the Mets in OPS (.873) from July 10, 2011, until June 24, 2012, behind only David Wright. His 132 hits during that span were also second on the team. His 23 doubles were third. His 21 home runs were first, five more than anyone else in orange and blue.
But Duda struggled mightily from late June until his demotion, leaving the Mets -- and their opposition -- scratching their heads.
"When he gets back here, I want to get him in the lineup," Collins said. "I still think his ceiling is high and I still think he's part of the future."