By Ernie Palladino
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We’re not going to pretend that this .400 tear John Buck is on will continue for any significant time. He is, after all, an all or nothing type, as his 120 career homers against a .236 career average indicates.
His job is to handle pitchers and provide good defense. If he gets a few key hits as he has so far this year, highlighted in Saturday’s win over the Marlins, then all’s well and good. The Mets can’t rely on Buck to drive in four runs with a two-run double and a pair of sacrifice flies every game.
Better to celebrate the first part of that equation. Once regarded as a mere extra part in the R.A. Dickey trade with Toronto, Buck is handling things quite well and looks like much more than a placeholder for Travis d’Arnaud.
In fact, if Buck continues what he’s doing behind the plate, he’ll make it that much tougher for Terry Collins to call up d’Arnaud from Triple-A Las Vegas once the 24-year-old really gets rolling.
Quite unexpectedly, the Mets have MLB’s third-rated pitching staff at this early juncture. They’re 3-2 with Buck catching — Anthony Recker was back there Sunday — and the staff ERA is a nice, tidy 2.20. That’s not a bad way to start the season. Whether it holds up is anybody’s guess, but the fact is Buck has a lot to do with that.
He’s settled into a comfortable rapport with Jon Niese and has taken a firm hand in dealing with the young Matt Harvey. Even in the two-game losing streak that was snapped with Saturday’s victory, it was more the offense that didn’t come through than it was the pitchers, especially in the 2-1 loss that saw Dillon Gee get into the seventh inning on one-run ball. It was, by the way, Buck who provided the Mets’ only run with a homer. He has two on the season.
If the Mets’ luck holds out, he could replicate the 20-homer season he put together with Toronto in 2010. But again, that’s not what he’s here for. He’s here to keep this young pitching staff on track, and he’s done well with that so far.
As for d’Arnaud, he went into Sunday hitting .375 after three games in Las Vegas. He had a memorable season debut Thursday, banging out two doubles and scoring four runs in the 51s’ 10-5 thrashing of the Sacramento River Cats.
He’s handling Zack Wheeler down there, and that should make for a very nice duo once the two of them come up. But it’s a relationship that will have to be fostered, too, as Wheeler was roughed up for three walks, three hits, and two runs in 3 1/3 innings.
Once d’Arnaud does arrive at Citi Field, Buck’s role undoubtedly will expand to teacher. For now, though, Buck is the guy. The throw-in has become quite the key figure, as Niese told the Post.
“He never takes a pitch off, which I like,” Niese said. “He reads hitters well. We always have a good plan going into the game. It’s easy when you have a veteran catcher like that. All you have to do is follow him.”
That’s exactly what a young set of arms needs, a leader at the other end.
And if Buck’s hitting holds up, so much the better.
Your thoughts so far on Buck? Be heard in the comments!