NYM@ATL: Buck smacks a two-run homer in the first

NEW YORK -- John Buck was involved in two blockbuster trades this winter, and somewhere along the way he became a cleanup hitter. Buck, dealt first from Miami to Toronto and then to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade, has been one of the league's biggest surprises so far this season.

The 32-year-old catcher batted just .192 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs in 106 games for Miami last season, but he hit .255 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in his first 26 games as a Met. Buck had only hit cleanup five times prior to this season, but he's already done it eight times this year.

"It's a little different now than maybe it was when I was younger," said Buck, who led the National League in RBIs heading into Tuesday's game. "Whether I'm hitting eighth or ninth -- or wherever I am in the lineup -- I've been around long enough where pitching coaches and pitchers know me. They pitch me the way they think they can get me out no matter if I'm in the four-hole or the six-hole."

Buck has batted .250 with a .500 slugging percentage in the cleanup slot for the Mets, and he's homered two times in 32 at-bats from that part of the lineup. The veteran has also sizzled as the No. 7 hitter, where he's posted a .318 average and an .810 slugging percentage this season.

Buck went to the All-Star Game in 2010 when he pounded a career-best 20 home runs, and he could be in the mix for another All-Star berth this season. There's still plenty of time left in the season, but Buck's star turn comes after being traded twice and not knowing at all what to expect.

First, there was the trade that sent him from Miami to Toronto with former Met Jose Reyes, and Buck didn't have much time to let that trade sink in. The backstop was traded to the Mets less than a month later, and he's spent the last five weeks taking out his frustrations on opposing pitchers.

"It's been fun. It's only been good pressure," said Buck. "Coming over here, there was all that excitement. I'm very optimistic about the team and the season, so it's all been good stuff for me."

Francisco passes back-to-back test at Class A

2013 Outlook: Francisco hopes to regain form in 2013

NEW YORK -- The Mets may be closer to getting one of their prized relief arms back in the fold. Erstwhile closer Frank Francisco, sidelined by offseason surgery to remove a bone chip from his pitching elbow, has passed a big test by being able to pitch in back-to-back games.

Francisco has made four scoreless appearances for Class A St. Lucie, and he served notice over the last two days by throwing scoreless innings in consecutive games. Francisco blanked Daytona on both Sunday and Monday, giving the Mets something to think about.

"I know we want to see how he bounces back," said manager Terry Collins. "The reports are that his velocity's been good. His command's been pretty good. I haven't talked to [general manager] Sandy [Alderson] to see what they want to do as far as when they want to move him. Obviously, going back-to-back days, it's probably going to be a couple days break before he has to pitch again."

Francisco, 33 years old, pitched to a 1-3 record with 23 saves and a 5.53 ERA last season, but Collins said he'll have to earn the ninth inning all over again. Current closer Bobby Parnell has posted a 1.38 ERA in his first 13 appearances, and he's finished 10 of the 13 games he's pitched.

Collins isn't sure when Francisco will be back with the Mets, but he looks forward to having more depth in his bullpen. Everything else, said Collins, will take care of itself in time.

"Frankie's got to show us that he can pitch back-to-back days up here," he said of Francisco's ability to seize the closer's role. "We're talking three days in a row. Can he do that? The one thing I don't think we're ready to do is start to juggle our bullpen at this particular moment. Bobby's doing such a good job. We'll wait until Frankie gets here and then we'll make those determinations."

Valdespin not yet showing consistency at the plate

NYM@MIA: Valdespin jacks three-run homer in the sixth

NEW YORK -- The Mets are still waiting for the real Jordany Valdespin to assert himself. New York's mercurial young outfielder has come up with some big hits in his first two seasons in the Major Leagues, but manager Terry Collins is still hoping to see some consistency from Valdespin.

Valdespin has hit four of his 10 career home runs in "late and close" situations, but the 25-year-old hasn't been able to convert his flair for the dramatic into everyday production. Valdespin is a .253 hitter as a starter and a .220 hitter in reserve, complicating a decision on how to use him.

"He thrives on that big stage," said Collins. "He's shown it the two years that he's been here. You pick out that situation where he can come up and do damage, and he seems to do it. When he's in the lineup a lot, he sometimes lets one at-bat hurt the next one instead of staying within himself."

Valdespin is batting just .246 this season, and he's managed to play in 25 of the team's first 28 games. But he hasn't taken a job and made it his own. The Mets optioned Colin Cowgill to Triple-A Las Vegas and recalled Andrew Brown recently, giving them another player in the outfield mix.

Lucas Duda has been good enough to make a full-time claim on left field, and Mike Baxter and rookie Juan Lagares have been vying for playing time in the outfield mix. Valdespin will continue to get chances, and the Mets hope that he'll soon be able to put it all together.

"He's a young guy. He's an emotional guy," said Collins. "He plays with great passion. We're trying to get him to understand that each and every day is a different day. You kind of forget about yesterday and today's a new challenge. When he comes off the bench, he realizes that."