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Mets give Thole a try in No. 2 spot

Mets give Thole a try at No. 2

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ATLANTA -- Circumstances are forcing the Mets to bat Luis Castillo first these days, creating a new search for a No. 2 hitter. On Wednesday, rookie catcher Josh Thole was the choice. And in the course of his explanation, Mets manager Jerry Manuel drew an interesting comparison to former two-hole expert Paul Lo Duca.

"I don't know if Josh has that type of bat control, but I do know that he very seldom swings and misses at pitches outside the strike zone," Manuel said. "I would like to see what that looks like in a game."

And so Thole was scheduled to hit second on Wednesday, behind Castillo and just ahead of David Wright. At best, he can be a productive second hitter for the Mets down the stretch. At worst, he will be the guinea pig in a hypothesis gone awry.

So far, so good: Thole notched hits in his first two plate appearances, including a two-run single to give the Mets the lead in the second inning. Thole was pinch-hit for in the eighth by Omir Santos, who drilled a home run that put the Mets ahead at the time, though they fell to the Braves, 6-5, in the ninth.

Dig into the statistics, and the experiment makes sense. Thole's walk rate (roughly one every 10 plate appearances) and strikeout rate (one every 12.5 plate appearances) were stellar over 103 games at Double-A this season. If nothing else, he has displayed an advanced ability to make contact when he swings.

Certainly, a .409 average through his first 22 big league at-bats is far from sustainable. But Thole has displayed all the tools to convince the Mets that even if -- or when, rather -- his average dips, he can still help the Mets with patient at-bats and productive outs.

That is what Lo Duca, a prototypical two-hole hitter, did in his two seasons with the Mets earlier this decade. Lo Duca did not possess as much plate discipline as Thole appears to have, but he almost never struck out -- just 71 times over two seasons in Flushing.

Tuesday, in his 24th plate appearance, Thole went down swinging for the first time in his career. Like his average, that contact rate is not quite sustainable -- but it does hint at his ability as a top-of-the lineup hitter.

Need further proof? Over a five-year Minor League career spanning 1,321 at-bats -- or roughly 2 1/2 full big league seasons -- Thole struck out merely 165 times. Swinging and missing, it seems, is hardly his specialty.

"He's hitting for a high average," Manuel said. "I'd just like to see how he fits up there, see if that can kind of jump-start the machine."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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