PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — Jason Bay signed with the New York Mets following an All-Star 2009 season in Boston that was also one of the best of his career.
Two years and a $66 million investment later, Mets management is still waiting to see if he’ll ever display that kind of talent in Queens.
After posting 20 or more home runs in six of his first seven major league seasons — including four with 30-plus — concussion, rib and shoulder issues culminated in Bay hitting just 18 total homers the past two years for the Mets.
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But after a summer of virtual training isolation spent hitting off a “tee-like contraption” and concentrating on the basics, Bay said Thursday he’s hopeful people will get to see the player he knows he can be.
“I’m trying to approach (the season) like any other one,” he said. “The first year I came in, I was kind of the new guy and then last year, coming off the concussion, I’m just trying to get back to it, and I did it this offseason. Not really trying to work on anything new. But just trying to do what I’ve always done. That’s the way I’m gonna approach it, regardless of what’s happened in the past.”
There’s no question that a lot could be riding on Bay making a significant improvement with the Mets doing very little in the way personnel tweaking this offseason.
The Mets have about half of their payroll this year promised to Bay, pitcher Johan Santana and third baseman David Wright. So another year of subpar production could bring about wholesale change.
Those aren’t sentiments lost on Bay.
“I think everybody knows we have some work to do — no question,” Bay said. “I don’t think anybody (in the clubhouse) thinks any differently. … Are we the No. 1 favorite for the division? Probably not. But I don’t think it’s out of the realm of truth that we can be pretty good.
“It’s gonna take a lot of guys bouncing back and there’s something definitely everybody can do to be better. And we’re gonna need that.”
Aside from the injuries, another thing that has slowed Bay’s production with the Mets, he said, was tinkering with his batting stance last season.
The leftfielder acknowledges now that when he hit slumps he often fought with himself to revert back to his old mechanics, which in turn only exacerbated the problems.
Still, Mets manager Terry Collins said there weren’t any moments while Bay slumped that he was questioning whether he was the right guy to be starting.
“No, I knew he was the best guy. I knew he was the guy to play,” Collins said. “And you handle streaks when somebody on your bench is hot and you think he should be playing. But in the long run, this guy’s numbers speak for themselves.
“He’s anxious to get going and he feels good, he likes the club. So I think Jason Bay is gonna be Jason Bay.”
Collins said there were several times that Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens mentioned that there were too many changes to Bay’s stance and they won’t do the same tweaking this time around.
He said he plans to have Bay hit in the No. 5 slot behind David Wright and Ike Davis.
Also, while Bay believes substantial offseason dimension changes at Citi Field that will pull in the right centerfield fence in 17 feet in one location won’t have a huge effect on him, Collins disagrees.
“I think certainly one thing the changes in our ball park is gonna help is the mental outlook on is `Hey, I can hit some home runs here’ if you put a good swing on the ball,” Collins said. “In Pittsburgh he hit a lot of balls to right centerfield for homers. And we all know he can pull. Again, in our park if we go back, two of the home runs he hit at Citi Field that were long he hit to right centerfield. Now, it’s even more attainable.”
Bay isn’t against the idea of hitting more balls to the opposite field. He wants there to be balance, though.
“I can hit the ball the other way, but it’s not my bread and butter,” he said. “…That’s gonna be my primary focus for the most part is being set up to do that, and with that, there’s a little give and take. I think at one point I was trying to be perfect and hit everything, every pitch in every spot the right way and I wasn’t hitting anything.
“You see there’s some pitches you aren’t going to be able to get to, but that’s everybody. … You end up trying to be too perfect.”
In the end, Bay said he hopes simplicity will reign in his approach to this season.
That means not second-guessing himself and letting the rest take care of itself.
“I know what works,” he said. “It’s just a matter of trusting it. We’ll see when we get there. But I think I can do it.”