NEW YORK -- For merely the third time in 20 games this season, the Mets started Thursday's game with someone other than John Buck behind the plate. Backup Anthony Recker caught Jeremy Hefner against the Dodgers, spelling Buck in a day game after a night game.
Given Buck's hot start, the Mets have employed a different strategy with their catchers this season than they did last year, when Josh Thole effectively split time with Mike Nickeas, Ron Johnson and Kelly Shoppach over long stretches of the summer. As a more established everyday catcher than Thole, Buck is unlikely ever to rest more than once a week.
"It's not always about the offensive side," manager Terry Collins said. "John Buck brings a good leadership presence with our pitching staff. I think he does a very good job of preparing for a game. So he's your No. 1 catcher -- they should catch five to six days a week depending on what your situations are."
The flip side is Buck's expansive role makes things difficult for Recker, who entered Thursday's play with a team-low nine plate appearances -- fewer than pitcher Matt Harvey -- over 20 team games. The rookie Recker is on pace for fewer than 200 plate appearances for the first time in his professional career.
"To be a backup player is very difficult, especially when you're young," Collins said. "Offensively, you realize he hasn't had the at-bats to stay real sharp. It's a tough role. We certainly understand all that."
Collins shifts Ike, Duda in lineup
NEW YORK -- Four days after vowing not to move Ike Davis from the cleanup spot in his lineup, Mets manager Terry Collins caved to the temptation.
Citing Lucas Duda's hot bat, Collins bumped Duda up to fourth in the lineup and moved Davis down to sixth, an alignment that he indicated may become the norm.
"We've got to get Ike going," Collins said. "We're heading into May here, and we need to get him swinging the bat like he's capable of. I don't know if he's trying to put too much pressure on himself to hit homers, but I just said, 'You know what? Maybe it's time to get him to relax a little bit.' When he starts swinging like he's capable of or like we saw in the second half, I'll move him back in that four hole, because I just think that's our best lineup. But Lucas is swinging great, so I just made the switch."
Davis entered Thursday's play batting .169 with a .260 on-base percentage and .308 slugging mark. Though he still bashed three home runs over his first 73 plate appearances, he also struck out 22 times -- roughly once every three trips to the plate.
Contrast that to Duda, who entered Thursday's play ranking third in the National League with a 1.099 OPS. He hit .324 with a 1.235 OPS over his previous 12 games, slugging four home runs and walking as many times (11) as he struck out.
Tack on Duda's superior career numbers against lefties -- both this year and lifetime -- and Thursday's matchup against Hyun-Jin Ryu became the perfect opportunity for Collins to make a switch.
"This guy's got very, very good numbers against left-handed hitters," the manager said of Ryu. "But I thought it was important with the way Lucas is swinging, that we keep his bat in the lineup. I wanted somebody in the middle of the lineup in case they go to that 'pen that can protect David [Wright] and do some damage. Lucas seemed to be that guy."
Baxter's key hustle doesn't go unnoticed
NEW YORK -- Long before Jordany Valdespin made the Mets winners Wednesday with his walk-off grand slam against the Dodgers in the 10th, the chatter on the dugout bench was about Mike Baxter. It was Baxter who had come through with a clutch pinch-hit in the ninth, then stretched it into a double when he noticed Carl Crawford hesitate in fielding the ball.
Baxter's hustle led directly to David Wright's game-tying hit, which allowed Valdespin to come through an inning later with the bases loaded.
"As you sat in the dugout last night, listening to the guys talk about when Baxter taking the extra base, how important that is they pay attention," manager Terry Collins said. "Now can we string it over 162? That's how you win. That ultimately is how you win games and how you get yourself in position for the postseason. We've got a long, long way to go."
When he arrived at second base, Baxter leapt up and clapped his hands excitedly, an out-of-character gesture for the normally reserved outfielder.
"Sometimes I get excited when the play gets close," Baxter said, laughing. "As you're getting closer, you know it's going to be a close play. That was a rare show of emotion there."
As for Valdespin, the Mets' other left-handed pinch-hitter was still basking in the afterglow of his game-winner the next morning, perusing a stack of local newspapers at his locker. Valdespin joked that he planned to take pictures of himself with the newspapers and post them on the internet.