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Early-season struggles help Clifford turn his year around



Early-season struggles help Clifford turn his year around

Ryan Clifford‘s introduction to Double-A in mid-June began with a 1-for-20 slump. But ever since the calendar flipped to July, MLB’s No. 71 prospect has been hard to keep off the bases.

That was the case in Double-A Binghamton’s 8-5 win over New Hampshire on Wednesday night at Delta Dental Stadium. The 20-year-old homered twice and drove in a career-high six runs on a 3-for-5 night. The Mets’ No. 4 prospect has nine hits in his past 10 games, including seven extra-base hits in the last seven.

After driving in his first run on a double to right field in the second inning to tie the game, Clifford stepped up to the plate in the seventh with the bases loaded off Blue Jays righty Braydon Fisher and took a mighty swing. The ball carried well into center, but the North Carolina native wasn’t sure if he got enough of it.

The ball bounced above the top of the brick wall and was eventually ruled a home run. Clifford exhaled a sigh of relief as he trotted around the bases and reunited with his teammates at home plate as he gave Binghamton a three-run lead.

“I’ve been working some counts a little better,” he said. “Getting the two strikes and being able to pick up a couple knocks here and there just to give myself a fighting chance by getting my best swing off early, but also trying to do good damage.”

Clifford belted his 12th homer of the season off righty Juan Nunez in the ninth for his sixth RBI of the night. Even though it was a career night for the left-handed hitter, that wasn’t his top priority.

“It’s something cool to look back on maybe later,” Clifford said. “I’m not necessarily worried about night, tonight, trying to get more and more RBIs. For me at the end of the day, did we come out on top? Did we get a win?

“If I’m able to contribute to that offensively, great. If not, find a way to help out on defense. At the end of the day, we’re looking to win the second half, so we’ve got to come out with some wins.”

Clifford’s turnaround has been a victory for the organization. He and Drew Gilbert, MLB’s No. 39 prospect, were part of the Mets’ Trade Deadline acquisition last year that sent Justin Verlander to the Astros.

Gilbert’s transition to his new club was smooth as he hit .325 with an OPS of .984 with six homers and 21 RBIs at Double-A. Clifford slashed .188/.307/.376 with 51 strikeouts in 117 at-bats at High-A in his organizational debut. The struggles carried into 2024 with a .216/.412/.304 line back with Brooklyn, but he was bumped up to Double-A after 31 games.

“Sometimes going through a struggle like that can help propel you forward,” Clifford said.

And it has. The 2022 11th-round pick attributes his upswing to being able to read the fastball more while focusing on each at-bat like he’s having an 0-for night.

With his performance trending upward, Clifford wants to continue making strides to ensure he is living up to the high expectations he’s felt since joining the organization.

“I feel like there’s more of a spotlight on me at all times,” he said. “That pressure can really form you into an all-around complete player. Just making sure that you take care of all aspects of the game, it’s been really fun. The support has been great, looking to keep it in that direction going forward.”

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