Around 1:30 in the morning on Friday, April 14, Travis d’Arnaud stood next to his locker, wearing a blue-jeweled crown on his head after hitting a game-deciding home run, which gave the New York Mets a 9-8 win over the Miami Marlins.
“It’s great, we’re 7-3, five-game winning streak; it’s huge for us to start like this,” Travis said when asked about how the start of the season has been. When asked about his personal input, he added, “Yeah, that’s a bonus.”
The Resurgence of Travis d’Arnaud
d’Arnaud’s significance in that game was indeed large, as he drove in four runs and scored three, crossing the dish as the tying run in the eighth inning and the winning run in the sixteenth. It was the first time in his major league career that d’Arnaud collected four hits in a single ballgame. This came just two days after the backstop had three RBI and fell a triple shy of the cycle en route to a Mets win against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Injuries and Inconsistency
The significance of the short resurgence seems larger for d’Arnaud than it would for other players. Coming into the 2017 season, the Southern California native knew it could be his last chance as an everyday catcher with the Mets. Since being drafted in the first round by the Phillies in 2007, d’Arnaud’s career has been filled with injury and inconsistency. Dealt twice as a minor leaguer in trades that included Cy Young Award winners, Travis was one of the top five catching prospects on MLB Pipeline’s list from 2011-2013; however, ailments in his back, knees, head, and eventually hand and elbow kept him sidelined for significant periods of time. “I think [getting hurt] is just frustrating at any point; it’s not fun, but I got to keep my head up and cheer my teammates on,” Travis said after leaving an April game with an injury that would cost him a couple of months in 2015.
Later that year, it seemed as though d’Arnaud had turned a corner, as he went deep eight times down the stretch after returning from the DL. He hit three home runs in the postseason as well, but even during one of his best stretches, the inability to nab potential base stealers plagued Travis. The struggles continued the next year, as d’Arnaud barely reached the .300 mark in OBP, and drove in only 15 runs in 251 at bats. Defensively, runners stole successfully 78% of the time off the 28-year-old, leading Terry Collins to give veteran Rene Rivera more playing time. The struggles offensively and defensively eventually got bad enough that Sandy Alderson discussed trading for Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy at the trade deadline and considered signing former Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters in the offseason.
One More Chance
But Lucroy was shipped to the Texas Rangers and Wieters crossed the Beltway to join the Washington Nationals, giving the catcher that once made Mets fans dream of the day he would make his debut one last chance. Coming into the season, Travis’ time is running out; but at the same time he has a fresh start. d’Arnaud has to show the Mets that he is the offensive player they once thought he could be, and that he can at least improve his ability to throw out baserunners. Perhaps most importantly, he has to show the baseball world that he can stay healthy for a full season, something he has not not done since 2011 as a Double-A player in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
The 2016 season was a wake up call for Travis d’Arnaud, as for the first time he had competition for the position that once belonged solely to him. This year, Travis is ready to turn things around. “We watched a lot of video of the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he said days after reporting to Port St. Lucie. “We broke everything down and tried to come up with a consistent thought process of what we felt I should do to stay consistent behind the plate, and offensively with Kevin Long we watched video and did the same thing.”
The mentality of having one last chance is what makes this hot streak feel different for Travis d’Arnaud. If he can continue to be an offensive force like he was Thursday in Miami, then that is more than just a bonus.