Francoeur looking forward to full year with Mets
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP)
Jeff Francoeur smiled as he bounced through the New York Mets' clubhouse Friday morning, stopping to joke around with teammates as he prepared for the club's second full-squad workout.
The good times continued on the field, with Francoeur kidding around with hitting coach Howard Johnson between impressive batting practice sessions.
Yes, the former Atlanta Braves star definitely seems at ease in his first spring camp with New York, and eager to see what he can do in a full season with the Mets.
``I'm ready to start and go through a whole year,'' Francoeur said. ``Not to mention, I'm ready to be on a team that was the Mets of the last three years before last year.''
One of the few bright spots during New York's dismal 2009 season was the play of Francoeur, who found his form at the plate after he was acquired from Atlanta in July. At the very beginning of spring training, he looks as if he's ready to pick up where he left off last year.
``It looks like he's swinging the bat as well as I've seen him swing throughout his career, and that was even early,'' manager Jerry Manuel said. ``I mean he swung the bat very well for us last season toward the end. But he really looks impressive now.''
Francoeur looked lost toward the end of his time in his hometown. The affable right fielder slumped badly in 2008 and was demoted to Double-A Mississippi for three games, a move that he found embarrassing. He was benched for a three-game stretch right before the Braves agreed to send him to New York for outfielder Ryan Church.
After consecutive seasons with 100-plus RBIs from 2006-07, Francoeur had to start over - with one of Atlanta's biggest rivals, no less.
``It was weird,'' he said. ``You know the thing that was nice probably more than anything is I played a couple games at home and then we started on the road for 10 days. It gave me kind of a chance to get acclimated to the guys, the program, so when we got back home I kind of knew what was going on.''
Manuel and Johnson went slowly with Francoeur at first, careful not to make any major changes with the notorious free swinger in the middle of the season. He responded quickly to their tutelage and the change of scenery, hitting .311 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in 75 games with New York after a mediocre start with Atlanta.
``Some new voices sometimes can take you a long way,'' Francoeur said. ``For me, that was a huge deal, being able to come over, kind of get back to where I wanted to be and then really improve. I drove the ball those three months better than I have driven the ball in a long time, so I was very pleased.''
That only ramped up Francoeur's excitement for this season, and his teammates also are anxious to see what the 26-year-old slugger can do now that he's fully adjusted to his new home.
``Obviously, having Jeff here for a full year is going to help things out,'' third baseman David Wright said.
Everything has gone well during the first few days of camp. Francoeur's surgically repaired left thumb is feeling fine, and he continues to work with Johnson on his swing.
``Just trying to get ready, trying to get loaded back a little bit, which will help me see the ball,'' Francoeur said. ``They don't want to take away my aggressiveness. My aggressiveness is one thing that makes me who I am. But, at the same time, it would be nice to be able to maybe get into some better hitter counts, recognize stuff better.''
NOTES: All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez slipped into camp to play catch but stayed away from the team as he recovers from conjunctivitis, also called pink eye. ... RHPs Jack Egbert, Clint Everts, Tobi Stoner, R.A. Dickey and Jenrry Mejia, and LHPs Jonathon Niese and Travis Blackley are expected to pitch during the Mets' intrasquad game on Monday. RHP Nelson Figueroa is scheduled to start the exhibition opener Tuesday against Atlanta, followed by RHP Fernando Nieve on Wednesday against the Braves. ... LHP Arturo Lopez, cut when C Rod Barajas finalized his deal on Wednesday, cleared waivers and will remain in camp as a non-roster player.