NEW YORK (AP) — Back in spring training, Michael Conforto appeared ticketed to the minors. When the season began, he was stuck on the bench.
And now? He’s the best thing going for the New York Mets.
Conforto homered twice and had a career-high four RBIs, including three on two hits during the team’s biggest first inning in 13 years, and Matt Harvey won his first home start since getting suspended as New York routed the San Diego Padres 9-3 on Tuesday night.
“Maybe I’m just a little bit more comfortable. Not trying to do so much at the plate,” said Conforto, who batted .220 last season and was sent to Triple-A twice. “I had some expectations last year; maybe I was pressing a little bit. But now I just feel like I have a solid routine.”
Lucas Duda broke out of a slump with three hits and three RBIs, and manager Terry Collins earned his 500th victory with the Mets. His squad got a leadoff homer and a two-run single from Conforto in a seven-run first against Jhoulys Chacin.
Given a huge early cushion, Harvey (3-3) labored through five innings to win for the first time since April 11 at Philadelphia. The embattled former ace was 0-3 in his previous six starts and got banned three days by the Mets after skipping a home game this month following a late night on the town.
Harvey apologized and went 0-1 in two outings on the team’s most recent road trip. There was light applause and little reaction from the crowd of 24,337 when he was introduced — only groans when Harvey had some trouble throwing strikes with a large lead.
“A little shaky,” he said. “It’s a work in progress, but I feel happy overall.”
Coming off an excellent performance against Milwaukee, Chacin (4-4) got only two outs in the shortest and worst of his 145 career starts.
He faced 10 batters and gave up seven runs on eight hits in his latest flop away from home, where Chacin is 2-0 with a 0.67 ERA. He has a 10.94 mark in six road starts.
“I made bad pitches during the first inning and I also made good pitches,” Chacin said. “It was one of those games that nothing was hit to anybody. It is tough when you are not giving the team a chance to win like I did today.”
New York’s first four batters and seven of its first eight got hits. Conforto hit his NL-high fourth leadoff homer on the 10th pitch of the at-bat and capped the outburst with a two-run single that chased Chacin.
“He’s in one of those grooves that great hitters get into, that you don’t want to mess with him,” Collins said . “He went home this winter and determined that he was going to come back and be a big league player.
“He’s back to the kid we saw when he first came to the major leagues.”
Duda had a two-run double during the rally, which also included Curtis Granderson’s sacrifice fly and Wilmer Flores’ run-scoring single.
The bottom of the first took 24 minutes. It was New York’s biggest splurge at the beginning of a game since scoring seven runs in the first inning against Atlanta on Sept. 16, 2004.
Conforto is batting .333 with 31 RBIs and a career-best 13 home runs. He became the first leadoff hitter in team history to have three RBIs in the first inning, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Both his homers came with two strikes, powering the Mets to their third victory in four games following a seven-game slide.
“He is one of the better young hitters in the game. We knew that coming in here,” San Diego manager Andy Green said. “We gave him some pitches.”
Ryan Schimpf homered for the Padres, who have dropped six of seven and own the worst record in the majors at 16-31.
One bright spot was a remarkable, diving grab by catcher Austin Hedges on a foul popup.
Padres: Backup catcher Hector Sanchez (bruised right foot) was expected to come off the disabled list Tuesday before injuring his right quadriceps in what was supposed to be his final rehab game Sunday with Triple-A El Paso. Sanchez will be shut down for the time being, Green said. … RHP Trevor Cahill (shoulder) had an MRI on Sunday that revealed no structural damage, but he probably won’t throw for 10-14 days, according to Green.
Mets: RF Jay Bruce was removed in the sixth with back tightness. He said it was nothing serious and he expects to play Wednesday. … SS Jose Reyes returned to the lineup after getting scratched Sunday due to tightness in his left ribcage.
San Diego recalled INF Carlos Asuaje from Triple-A El Paso and optioned RHP Jose Valdez to its top farm club.
ON HIS WAY
The Padres plan to call up RHP Dinelson Lamet to start the series finale Thursday night in place of injured Jered Weaver (left hip inflammation). It will be the major league debut for Lamet, who is 3-2 with a 3.23 ERA in eight starts at El Paso.
Scuffling rookie Robert Gsellman (2-3, 6.75 ERA) will be re-inserted into the Mets’ rotation Wednesday night. The right-hander had his turn skipped last weekend and came out of the bullpen in his past two appearances. Collins said he hopes those relief outings boost Gsellman’s confidence. Padres RHP Jarred Cosart (0-1, 2.70), seeking his first win since 2015, makes another start in place of Cahill.