ATLANTA -- When the Mets demoted scuffling outfielder Lucas Duda to the Minor Leagues in July, manager Terry Collins recalled, "A chip showed up on his shoulder. He was angry."
That sort of emotion is rare for Duda, the quiet, unassuming -- at times, almost painfully shy -- outfielder whom the Mets considered a critical part of their future as recently as this spring. If they are less convinced now, it is simply because Duda was unable to hold onto his starting gig, struggling both offensively and defensively in the months leading up to his demotion.
He was in the midst of a 9-for-65 slump when the Mets sent him to Triple-A, showcasing little of the power they saw with regularity last season, when Duda took over for the departed Carlos Beltran. That slump dropped his slugging percentage all the way down to .391, far below what the Mets expected of him when he broke camp with the starting right fielder's job.
Though Duda has not done significantly better since his return in late August, splitting playing time with a host of others, the Mets hope that his go-ahead home run on a nine-pitch at-bat in Friday's 3-1 win will help spark his confidence heading into the winter.
"He's come back knowing that he belongs here," Collins said, stressing the importance of Duda's approach in the nine-pitch effort against Braves starter Tim Hudson. "Now all the work is geared toward getting him back to where he was when we first got him last year."
For Duda, that means regularly trying to hit to all fields, especially given Citi Field's shortened fences in left and right-center. If Duda can do that, he may be able to rebound in a similar way to teammate Ike Davis, who narrowly avoided his own Minor League demotion before slugging a career-high 31 homers, entering Saturday, this season.
The tricky part may be finding a permanent defensive home for Duda, who subbed at first base against a left-hander Saturday. A natural first baseman, Duda may not be able to contribute consistently to the Mets unless he can develop his outfield play.
"Obviously, you can improve in every aspect," Duda said. "It wasn't the season that I wanted to have, getting sent down and things like that. But I'll come back and battle back and see what happens."