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Matthew Leach

Beneath Ike's slump waits a payoff

Mets hope two-hit night leads to breakout during difficult season

Beneath Ike's slump waits a payoff play video for Beneath Ike's slump waits a payoff

NEW YORK -- In one at-bat, you saw what the Mets are waiting for. You could see why they're so hesitant to cut the cord with Ike Davis, why they remain patient as Davis endures a brutal slump.

In the first inning of Wednesday's 9-4 win over the Yankees, Davis fouled off a first-pitch curveball from David Phelps. He fouled off another pitch, a changeup just off the plate, to fall behind in the count, 0-2.

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That should be game over, or at least at-bat over, but Davis hung in. Phelps thrice tried to get him to chase pitches out of the zone, and each time Davis laid off, working the count full. When Phelps threw a decent 3-2 fastball, up but on the black, Davis went with it. He poked Phelps' fastball, a pitch tailing away from him, to the left side for a two-run single.

"It was more than a poke," said catcher John Buck. "He laced that thing. Let's not shortchange him one iota."

It was first-rate big league hitting, and it's the kind of thing Davis is capable of doing. As the Davis drama has become a larger and larger percentage of the story of New York's National League team, it seems something fundamental is in danger of being forgotten. Davis, when right, is a very good Major League player.

This isn't sturm und drang just for the fun of it. The Mets are searching for offense, and Davis can provide it. He needs to get right, but if he does, he's a key part of a lineup that should be better than it has been.

That's why they're waiting. His power, of course, is well known. But Davis is capable of a very good strike zone -- even this year, as he's struggled, he's walking every 10 plate appearances. He's capable of hitting for average -- .288 in the Minors, .302 in a brief stint in the bigs in 2011. And he has the skills to be a quality defender at first base.

The Mets aren't waiting on Davis to get to mediocrity. If that's all they thought he was capable of, he'd likely already be in the Minors, or at least out of the lineup.

They're waiting because Davis can be a player worth waiting for. He had two hits on Wednesday, following some encouraging signs in recent days. It hasn't been all good, but the trend line is heading in the right direction, even if the results are still lagging behind the at-bats.

"I've had better at-bats [recently]," he said, "but then there have been days where I've just been terrible. Today was a good day. Hopefully, I can go out tomorrow and keep having good at-bats."

Davis may well be playing for his job every day. But if struggling were enough to get him sent down, he'd already be playing in Las Vegas for the organization's Triple-A affiliate. The Mets are keeping Davis on the big league roster, and not because they haven't pondered the alternatives.

No, they know that Davis can be an impact player. And if we're being honest, they know they don't have any other choices that would clearly be better. So they'll let Davis continue to work, continue to search, continue to try to be the player he showed he can be in 2010, '11 and over the final four months of '12. When they see him do things like he did on Wednesday, it's evidence that the wait might be worth it.

"Any time you see a guy go up the middle or the other way, and work an at-bat coming from behind with two strikes, that's obviously good," Buck said. "That's a five-star at-bat if you ask me. ... You can just see his quality of at-bats the last week. They're completely different."

Now he just needs to do it about 400 more times.

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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