Lo Duca to set up Wright at HR Derby
Mets slugger tabs catcher to serve as pitcher in All-Star event
NEW YORK -- The long grand slam Dontrelle Willis hit against Jose Lima on Friday night still was in the Mets' consciousness on Saturday when they reassembled at Shea Stadium.
So when the topic of clubhouse conversation turned to David Wright's participation in the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby on ESPN in Pittsburgh on Monday night, Lima's pitch to Willis was fair game.
"David should get Jose to throw to him," one teammate said in typical clubhouse sarcasm. "He'd win for sure."
Wright is one of eight contestants in the Home Run Derby the night before the All-Star Game at PNC Park. Lima will not be one of the so-called batting practice pitchers. Wright, hardly a favorite in the competition, has chosen his Mets teammate -- and fellow All-Star -- Paul Lo Duca to be his personal piñata.
The Mets catcher campaigned for the assignment that usually goes to a legitimate batting practice pitcher. Before the Mets play the Marlins on Sunday, the former high school pitcher will audition for the job he is confident he can handle.
"We've talked about it," Wright said, "That's all talked about. He wants to do it. He promises he can throw good BP. So we'll see. I'm not going to change anything. I'm just going to take my normal swing. But I did tell him to try to elevate his pitches. We'll see how it works out [Sunday]."
Wright, who had hit 19 home runs through Friday -- fewer than five in the field -- acknowledges others should be favored, notably David Ortiz and Ryan Howard, who respectively had hit 30 and 28 for the Red Sox and Phillies through Friday, and that the dimensions of PNC Park favor left-handed hitters. "But I've got [Lo Duca]. He's my advantage."
To hear Willie Randolph talk about it, the ability of the man throwing is as important as the ability of the man swinging. The Mets manager and former Yankees coach served as the pitcher for Jason Giambi in 2002 when the Yankees first baseman won the competition.
"We looked Sammy [Sosa] and Barry [Bonds] in the eye, and we beat them," Randolph said, emphasizing the first-person plural. "I still tell Jason we were a great team. I threw him quality strikes -- high and hard.
"But I don't know. Lo Duca? Are you sure? And David wants to win it?"
Lo Duca likes the job. Perhaps he's envious of Mets rookie pitcher Henry Owens, who never sent foot on a pitching rubber until after he was drafted -- as a catcher.
"Catchers can do this," he says.
Still, some Mets offered advice to help Lo Duca help Wright.
"I think he should watch the videotapes of my games on L.A. and Philly," Tom Glavine said, referring to his starts of June 7 and 13 in which he allowed a total of seven home runs.
And Billy Wagner, an All-Star as a Phillie last season, suggested Lo Duca "make sure he gets four or five in the first round so he doesn't make a bad showing. Then get him out of there so he doesn't get hurt or tired."
Wagner watched his Phillies teammate Bobby Abreu win the competition last year with 41.
"And then," he said, "he came back to us completely worn out."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.