WASHINGTON -- Two of the areas in which the Mets have made great strides this season are baserunning and outfield defense. Coincidence or not, Tom Goodwin is in charge of both.
Goodwin, also in his second year as the Mets' first-base coach, twice earned praise from manager Terry Collins on Friday. Before the team's series opener against the Nationals, Collins credited Goodwin for his work with the outfielders, particularly for helping them rack up the fourth-highest total of assists in the Majors. After a key play on the bases by Daniel Murphy lifted the Mets to a 3-2 win, Collins said Goodwin "has done an outstanding job" instilling aggressiveness in what has become the league's top baserunning team.
"He's all about comfort," left fielder Eric Young Jr. said of Goodwin, who came up with Young's father in the Dodgers' organization. "He tries to find out what a guy's comfort level is and really try to utilize that. He doesn't necessarily try to change anybody, me or the other outfielders, just tries to find out what you're comfortable doing and works from there to make it all jump."
Goodwin, a speedster who played 14 big league seasons, mostly passed off credit to the players and the rest of the coaching staff. He especially credited Collins for fostering the aggressive approach and letting the coaches and players have the freedom to do their jobs. And certainly, New York's shifting personnel has helped, especially the additions of Young and Juan Lagares.
But the change has been dramatic. The Mets lead the Majors with 17.8 baserunning runs above average, more than three runs better than any other team, according to FanGraphs.com. Last year they ranked 18th at minus 3.0. They also have the league's best rate of extra bases taken, at 46 percent.
Goodwin has kept the players engaged with a game in which they accumulate points for taking extra bases. There's a winner each month, with mostly clubhouse bragging rights at stake.
"There's no magic potion you can put on guys," Goodwin said. "It's just to continually bring it up in a way where it's not annoying, where guys aren't like, 'Oh no, there comes Goody again to talk about baserunning or outfield play or something like that.' You just try to make it a fun thing and the guys have taken to it, as far as the baserunning goes."
In the outfield, the Mets have gone from last in the Majors in FanGraphs' all-encompassing Ultimate Zone Rating statistic to 11th in one season. Their throwing has been a major contributing factor, with Lagares' 12 assists leading the way. On Saturday, his strike to the relay man Murphy helped nail Bryce Harper as he tried to stretch a double into a triple, and it pulled Lagares into a tie with Tsuyoshi Shinjo for the club's rookie record.
Goodwin didn't have a big arm as a player, so he has preached the importance of making low throws that can be cut off if necessary.
"If it's down and we can get him at home, that's fine," Goodwin said. "But we always give our pitchers a chance to get two outs with one pitch, so we're always trying to stop that guy from running to second."
Newcomer Black among Mets' callups
WASHINGTON -- Vic Black's professional baseball career had, in a couple of ways, come full circle when he joined the Mets ahead of Sunday night's series finale against the Nationals. He was one of three players the club added on the first day of expanded rosters, along with left-hander Tim Byrdak and infielder Zach Lutz.
Black, a right-handed reliever the Mets acquired from the Pirates in the Marlon Byrd trade, was drafted originally by the Mets, in the 41st round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. But Black had devoted himself to pitching only recently and wanted to go to college. After three years at Dallas Baptist University, the Pirates chose him 49th overall in 2009, and he debuted in the Majors on July 25 -- in Washington.
The 25-year-old made three appearances for Pittsburgh and was back with Triple-A Indianapolis when he officially was sent to the Mets on Thursday, as the player to be named in the deal that took Byrd and John Buck to Pittsburgh. He slotted in as the Mets' No. 14 prospect in MLB.com's rankings.
"It's been a roller coaster, to tell you the truth," Black said. "This is something you don't know what it's like until you actually go through it. ... It's definitely exciting. Once the news finally came out and it was official, I was more than stoked to actually be a part of it."
Black averaged 96 mph with his fastball with the Bucs and has the ability to reach triple digits. He also features a power slider. In his MLB debut with the Pirates, he walked Jayson Werth but struck out Ian Desmond looking -- and made a strong impression in the process.
"I just talked to some guys on the Nationals that faced him, and they said he's got closer stuff," Mets manager Terry Collins said before Sunday's game.
That's a role Black relishes and said he "absolutely" would like to fill with the Mets at some point. He has saved 30 games over the past two seasons at Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona, and this season he posted a 2.51 ERA and 63 strikeouts over 46 2/3 innings.
"Back end [of the bullpen] is definitely what I think I'm bred for, mind-wise," Black said. "Aggressiveness, it seems to flow. I've done it the past two years, been fairly successful at it when given the opportunity within the organization I was with, and it's definitely something I'd like to carry on."
Black spent some time as a starter early in his pro career, but a shoulder injury that cost him almost all of the 2010 season pointed him toward the bullpen. He believes his personality is more suited to that role anyway.
"Just be ready," Black said. "I've been told there's a lot of opportunity, and opportunity's always great for anybody. I'm thankful to be here and be a part of it."
Emotional Byrdak returns to Majors with Mets
WASHINGTON -- Mets left-hander Tim Byrdak thought his career might be over late last season, when he left the club with an injury. It turned out that he had torn the anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder, a rare diagnosis, especially for a reliever.
"Last year when I left, it was hard," Byrdak said Sunday, when he rejoined the Mets after they selected his contract from Triple-A Las Vegas. "[I had] tears in my eyes because we didn't know what was going to happen. Really there was a good, strong chance I was never going to get back to this level. I remember laying in an MRI tube as my wife and kids were flying into New York and getting the news as they were landing that the capsule was torn. So it's very emotional. Looking at possibly the end and to be able to come back here, it's great."
Byrdak didn't return to game action until June 22. After stints at two lower levels, the 39-year-old made 11 scoreless appearances for Las Vegas, giving up six hits and five walks while striking out 10 over eight innings. In two seasons for the Mets, he had a 4.08 ERA across 128 games and held left-handed hitters to a .195 average.
He is still building strength in his shoulder but has benefited from a revamped throwing program and his talk with former Mets pitcher Chris Young, who had the same injury. While his velocity fluctuates between 83-87 mph, he now is one of three lefties in the Mets' bullpen, meaning manager Terry Collins won't have to lean on him like he did at times the past two years.
Still, Byrdak said he is hoping to take advantage of the chance to show the Mets he should be part of their plans for next season.
"They've been tremendous to me and my family," Byrdak said. "They've given me this opportunity, so hopefully I can make the most of it."
Duda to get bulk of time at first; Lutz provides depth
WASHINGTON -- With Ike Davis having strained his right oblique on Saturday, likely sidelining him for the season, Lucas Duda got the start at first base for Sunday night's series finale against the Nationals. Manager Terry Collins has said that Duda will be his primary first baseman going forward, with Josh Satin getting some starts against left-handed pitchers.
New York also recalled Zach Lutz from Triple-A Las Vegas on Sunday to give the club some additional depth at the position.
Duda hadn't played much since he was recalled from Las Vegas on Aug. 24. He was hitting .232/.355/.429 with 11 home runs in 72 games with the Mets entering Sunday.
Collins believes Duda will benefit from getting regular playing time at first base, something that helped him in the past when Davis has been out. The Mets also have used him in the outfield at times during his career.
"I think it's going to certainly relax him a little bit," Collins said. "One of the things Lucas and I talked about when he came back, we talked about the situation in the outfield and he said, 'You know, I'm a first baseman.' And I said, 'I'm well aware of it.' So I think it will help him, yes."
Lutz was hitting .293/.377/.479 with 13 home runs for Las Vegas. The 27-year-old, who also plays third base, has appeared briefly with the Mets in both of the past two seasons, going a combined 2-for-15.
• Third baseman Wilmer Flores missed his second consecutive start on Sunday, which Collins acknowledged was due in part to foot injuries. Collins said both of the rookie's feet are "taped to the max," but that he will be back in the lineup on Monday in Atlanta.
"I watched him the other day and it looked like his feet are bothering him," Collins said. "I watched him go up for some balls and it just looks like he's aggravated by it. His swing has changed a little bit, so he might be getting tired also, so I just thought I'm going to give him a couple of days off."
• Center fielder Matt den Dekker got his third Major League start and second in a row on Sunday, a day after he collected his first career hit and RBI. In the second inning, den Dekker got an inside cutter from Dan Haren and lifted it just over a leaping Ian Desmond at shortstop.
"It was a really good feeling to get that first one out of the way, my first hit in the big leagues, and now I can go from there and start playing good baseball," he said.
den Dekker launched his first career homer in the second inning of Sunday night's game into the upper deck.
• According to Collins, general manager Sandy Alderson wants shortstop Ruben Tejada to stay with Triple-A Las Vegas as the club begins its Pacific Coast League playoff run this week. Tejada figures to be called up at some point, but the Mets haven't revealed a specific timetable.
• Collins said third baseman David Wright isn't ready to play in Minor League rehab games. The club hopes he can do so in time to join one of its affiliates for some playoff games. New York has four farm teams that have clinched postseason berths thus far.