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."
Collins not down after Francisco's blown save
MIAMI -- Mets manager Terry Collins did not seek out Frank Francisco after Friday's blown save, nor the following morning. He did not harp on the pitches that cost the Mets their sixth straight victory.
"To me, you pick and choose your spots," Collins said Saturday, some 12 hours after Francisco blew his second save in 10 chances. "He's been pitching so well lately. It's just one of those things. If you go to them after every game that they have a little rough outing, they get tired of hearing about it. He's a veteran guy. He knows exactly what's going on. He's got to get himself ready."
Though Francisco is still sporting a 6.59 ERA on the season, he had, indeed, been pitching better prior to Saturday, delivering four consecutive scoreless outings.
The closer stressed that he did "not feel bad" after Friday's blown save, in large part because he executed the pitches that he wanted to. The results simply were not there.
"I fight," Francisco said. "I was fighting out there with everything I have. Every time I go out there, I leave everything out there."
Mike Nickeas started a second straight game behind the plate Saturday, catching R.A. Dickey for the first time this season. Nickeas accrued some experience catching the knuckleballer last season and throughout Spring Training, leading Collins to start him over backup Rob Johnson.
Shortstop Ronny Cedeno impressed Collins in his first game back from the disabled list Friday, particularly with his eight-pitch walk in the eighth inning. A notorious free swinger in years past, Cedeno is drawing walks this season at a rate four times greater than his career average. "We talked about it with him in Spring Training, because it's something that his game has never been," Collins said. "And he's bought into it."