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Lucas Duda joins Braves, welcomes bench role on a contender

Newly acquired Lucas Duda joined the Braves’ bench Thursday, losing some future at-bats while gaining a lot of ground in the standings with his move from Kansas City to Atlanta. 

Duda, a first baseman, had 306 at-bats with the Royals this season, but the Braves obtained him primarily as a left-handed pinch-hitter capable of one significant plate appearance per game. 

The tradeoff is that he went from a last-place team 33-1/2 games out of first place in the American League Central to a first-place team with a 3-1/2-game lead in the National League East. 

“It’s nice to be here,” Duda said upon arriving at SunTrust Park. “I’ve been in a pennant race before, and I know the feeling. And I’m glad to be back in that situation and to help out any way I can.” 

Duda, 32, is in his ninth major-league season, most of them with the Mets, who traded him to Tampa Bay in July 2017. He became a free agent after last season and signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Royals. 

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He has hit more than 25 home runs in three seasons – 30 for the Mets in 2014, 27 for the Mets in 2015 and a combined 30 for the Mets and Rays last season. This season, he hit .242 with 13 home runs and 48 RBIs in 86 games for Kansas City.

The Braves look for Duda’s power to provide a needed threat off the bench. 

“He’s definitely a guy that the other side is going to be aware of,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I think it’s a really good acquisition for us. 

“We’re excited to get him. It’s another good piece to help us in our quest.” 

Duda made his Braves debut in the sixth inning of Thursday’s game against the Cubs, pinch-hitting for pitcher Mike Foltynewicz. Duda immediately showed a glimpse of the power the Braves expect him to provide, but Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr. robbed him of an extra-base hit with a terrific sliding catch on the warning track in right-center.

With Kansas City wallowing in last place in their division, Duda wasn’t taken aback when Royals manager Ned Yost informed him he had been dealt for a player to be named later or cash considerations in a waiver transaction Wednesday.

“I knew there was a possibility,” Duda said. “I guess I wouldn’t say shocked. I would just say happily informed, I guess. So here I am, ready to play my role.” 

Duda appeared in 14 postseason games in 2015, when his Mets lost to the Royals in the World Series. Three years later, he expresses no reservations about being a bench player for his new team. 

“That’s my role – to come in and be a bat off the bench or spell a guy or whatever it is,” he said. “I’m excited and very fortunate to be in this position. ... Just hopefully fit in and help win some ballgames.” 

He is  familiar with the NL East from his years with the Mets, a potential advantage in the transition to the Braves.

“He ... probably has faced most of the (pitchers) he’s going to be facing,” Snitker said. 

Duda hadn’t seen the Braves play in person this season until Thursday night, but he already had formed an impression of them. 

“I’ve been watching from afar, and I think the group is pretty special,” he said. The Braves, he said, are “in contention, in my opinion, to go pretty far in the playoffs.” 

Now he will try to help them get there.

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