Francoeur embraces fresh opportunity
Right fielder has immediate impact in debut with Mets
NEW YORK -- Jeff Francoeur said he wanted to play on the big stage. He got his chance right away.
In his first at-bat as a member of the Mets, Francoeur came up with the bases loaded and one out in the first inning on Saturday night. He promptly delivered a two-run bloop single down the right-field line.
"To be able to dump that one in the first inning felt good," Francoeur said. "The last thing I wanted to do was roll over my first pitch for a double play to end the inning."
It ended a 15-inning scoreless drought for the Mets' offense and propelled them to three first-inning runs and a 4-0 victory over the Reds.
"He's done that to us many times -- fought the ball off," manager Jerry Manuel said. "That's the competitive nature he brings; he's going to do everything he can to get those guys in."
It also calmed the nerves a little for Francoeur and allowed him, and the Mets, to relax.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous -- it's different when you're wearing another uniform," Francoeur said. "For me, the fans were great tonight and made me feel welcome here. I'm excited to play here and be a part of this team."
Earlier in the day, Francoeur was struck by a sense of the bizarre when he entered Citi Field.
"It was weird when I walked in today to see the colors and my uniform," Francoeur said.
After spending four years with the Braves, to be traded from his hometown team within the division to a longtime rival was a lot to digest. But the strangeness of his new surroundings wasn't enough to defuse any of Francoeur's enthusiasm and excitement to be in New York.
"I've been [in the bigs] for four years now, playing against the Mets. So to get the chance to play with them, play in a big city and play with a lot of fans out there that are very passionate, I'm looking forward to it," Francoeur said.
Francoeur, acquired Friday night in exchange for Ryan Church, batted fifth and played right field in his debut. He finished 2-for-4 with those two key RBIs.
The night wasn't all perfect for Francoeur, who was caught stealing second base in the seventh, when he bolted for second base a little too early. Reds reliever Carlos Fisher turned and easily threw him out at second.
"I thought I had timed the pitcher, and he just stood there," Francoeur said. "About halfway, I stopped, and if I had run as fast as I could, I probably could have made it, because I don't think the pitcher knew what was going on. The guys ragged me pretty good on that one. We'll work on that."
Overall, though, it was a promising start for a player hoping the change of scenery equals a change in production.
After a stellar first two-and-a-half years for the Braves, Francoeur has struggled since the start of the 2008 season. He batted .239 last year with only 11 home runs and 71 RBIs; so far in 2009, the right fielder is hitting .253 with five homers and 37 runs driven in.
"I think he's looking at proving he can play and wants to play on this stage," Manuel said. "Any team benefits from his mentality of energy and competing."
Francoeur's issue at the plate has been his lack of plate discipline -- something the Mets are confident they can cure given time. First, though, Manuel wants to let his new right fielder get comfortable.
"The approach we're going to take is we're going to watch for awhile," Manuel said. "We're going to try to let him get as comfortable as he can possibly get without trying to make these types of changes. What we hope is that some of the program that we have in place will address some of his issues on a daily basis."
Manuel and the Mets probably won't need to spend much time addressing Francoeur's defense. A Gold Glove Award winner in 2007, Francoeur is known around the league for his gun of an arm.
Francoeur has finished in the top two among National League right fielders in assists in each of his four big league seasons. He has six outfield assists so far this season.
Manuel is excited by the chance to pair Francoeur with fellow Gold Glover Carlos Beltran in center field when Beltran returns from the disabled list.
But that wasn't the first thing on Manuel's mind during his initial conversation with his newest player; instead, he was looking for some inside information.
"I was just trying to pick his mind on [Braves skipper] Bobby Cox," Manuel joked. "He's one of the best managers in the game. What does he do every day? Why is that roster so good?"
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.