CIN@NYM: Recker catches Hamilton stealing second

NEW YORK -- Anthony Recker's throw to cut down Billy Hamilton on a stolen-base attempt in Friday's 4-3 win over the Reds was no lucky toss. Hamilton is one of the fastest baserunners in the game today -- by some estimates, in the history of the game -- and it took every bit of Recker's revamped throwing skills to catch him.

For much of the offseason and into Spring Training, Recker worked on simplifying his footwork and throwing motion in an effort to become a better defensive catcher. He drew rave reviews for the work this spring, before displaying those improvements on a much more prominent stage against Hamilton and the Reds.

"You've got to make a great throw, and he made a great throw," manager Terry Collins said. "Right on the money."

Perhaps familiarity helped as well; Friday was not Recker's first scrap with Hamilton. In 2012, as the Reds outfielder was racing into history by breaking Vince Coleman's single-season Minor League stolen-base record, Recker twice had opportunities to throw him out at second base. Both times, he felt his throws beat Hamilton to the bag despite successful steals.

Given that history, Friday's throw was personally satisfying for Recker in more ways than one.

"My shortstop told me he was out both times, so I'll believe him, because I thought I had him both times," Recker said.

On the roster this year as Travis d'Arnaud's backup, Recker's good fortune continued into Saturday, when he made his first start of the season. Recker is already receiving far more playing time than he did a year ago, appearing in three of the Mets' first five games.

Hamilton, meanwhile, sat out Saturday with a jammed left middle finger, which he injured on the steal attempt.

As for d'Arnaud, who entered Saturday's play 0-for-12 at the plate, the off-day gave him a chance to relax after a tough start to the season. d'Arnaud also struggled after his initial Major League callup in August, then endured a rough start to Spring Training before finding his power stroke late.

"It certainly is a concern if it starts to get in his head that he can't hit at this level," Collins said. "That's your biggest fear, is that all of a sudden, someone feels they can't do something. But Travis has always hit. He believes he can hit. He has great confidence in himself. He's just got to stay with it."

Dedicated Valverde shows leadership with save

CIN@NYM: Valverde strikes out Bruce to end the game

NEW YORK -- Lost in Jose Valverde's on-field gyrations Friday night was the simple fact that Valverde, in his first opportunity as the Mets' closer, converted the save.

Valverde impressed the organization all spring with his clubhouse leadership, working closely with younger Latin pitchers such as Jenrry Mejia, Jeurys Familia and Gonzalez Germen. But his role took on more tangible importance earlier this week, when regular closer Bobby Parnell learned that he had partially torn the MCL in his right elbow.

As a result, Valverde will close for the Mets for at least the next six weeks.

So far, he's 1-for-1.

"He's been very impressive," manager Terry Collins said Saturday morning after the Mets' 4-3 win. "He really commands some respect from the younger pitchers, especially the Latin pitchers. He's a true leader. He's very open with stuff. Tremendous work ethic. He was here at 7 o'clock getting ready for a game, even after last night."

Worth noting

• After Saturday's game, the Mets optioned third baseman Wilmer Flores to Triple-A Las Vegas, activating left-handed pitcher Jon Niese from the disabled list. Niese will start Sunday for the Mets.

• As promised, Lucas Duda made his third consecutive start at first base Saturday. Collins said earlier this week that Duda would likely play two of the three games against Cincinnati, meaning Ike Davis is due for a start in Sunday's finale.

• Mejia reported no ill effects Saturday morning after taking a comebacker off his right ankle in Friday's game. Mejia is next scheduled to start Thursday in Atlanta.

Top prospect Noah Syndergaard made his Triple-A debut Friday night, picking up the win with six innings of two-run ball. Syndergaard, who should debut with the Mets sometime midsummer, struck out five and walked one.