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Changeup turning Wheeler into a complete pitcher

Development of fourth pitch has helped Mets right-hander deliver breakout season

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NEW YORK -- It was the bottom of the fourth inning at Marlins Park, and Zack Wheeler was in complete control. The Mets afforded him only a slim lead, though, so with Giancarlo Stanton at the plate, Wheeler was careful with the Miami slugger, showing him almost his entire arsenal away, away, away, until the count was full and catcher Taylor Teagarden signaled his suggestion for the sixth pitch. Wheeler, who in effect calls his own games, agreed with Teagarden on this occasion: changeup.

Wheeler unleashed the 89-mph offering that tumbled down and in. It not only missed Stanton's bat, but it did so by several inches. Inning over.

"I don't think I've shown it to Stanton before, and I finally threw one to him. It was a good pitch," Wheeler said that night, June 19, the first shutout of his Major League career. "The changeup was a big part of today."

The same could be said of Wheeler's season. A year after Wheeler leaned heavily on his fastball during an impressive rookie campaign, the right-hander has earned regular praise during an inconsistent-turned-breakout 2014. The development of his changeup, an option he first toyed with during his Giants days but hardly used in 2013, has helped Wheeler take steps forward in producing consistently at the Major League level, and it underscores his growth as a pitcher overall.

That Wheeler has made progress over last season is clear. He is striking out more batters and walking fewer, and while his 3.48 ERA is a tick above his 2013 mark, his FIP -- "Fielding Independent Pitching," a statistic considered to be better than ERA at measuring a pitcher's effectiveness -- has dropped to 3.54 from 4.17.

A deeper look at Wheeler's repertoire reveals modifications in his pitch usage, specifically a tendency to rely less on his four-seam fastball and more on his secondary offerings.

And it wasn't an accident.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen sat his hurlers down at the beginning of the season and asked each one to set goals for himself. Wheeler's was to have a Major League-average changeup by season's end -- nothing fancy, just another weapon to supplement his four-seamer and secondary offerings, including a curveball and a slider. A changeup was a good addition because it looks like a fastball -- until it doesn't, until a batter, expecting a 97-mph heater, starts swinging too early for the slower-arriving change.

That early-season meeting with Warthen began a concerted effort on Wheeler's part to turn it into a reliable go-to pitch, which he has done by putting it up against big leaguers more regularly.

Last season, when only 3 percent of his pitches were changeups, Wheeler would occasionally overthrow it, according to catcher Travis d'Arnaud. Wheeler said that might have been a product of his holding it too tightly (back on his palm) or too loosely (more up on his fingers) on a given night.

"Sometimes he'd just try to make it do too much, and it actually hurts it. It makes the pitch flatter," d'Arnaud said. "Your body flies open, and the pitch gets flatter, and you lose command of it."

This year, that isn't so much an issue -- if Wheeler doesn't have a good feel for his changeup one night, the battery will stay away from it. On the season, though, Wheeler was throwing it 7 percent of the time entering his Wednesday outing against the A's, more than twice as often as he did in 2013. Most of them come against lefties -- it tails away from them and is harder to hit -- but righties are actually hitless against 29 changeups this year.

Wheeler said he has reached the point where he is comfortable throwing it in just about any situation -- like a full count with two outs, for example. The changeup has become reliable enough that he trusts it, so even though a ball means a walk, it remains an option.

Such was the case when Wheeler got Stanton swinging during his shutout.

With a greater frequency of changeups came results.

Opposing batters are hitting .255 against Wheeler in at-bats ending with changeups, a considerable drop from the .333 mark they posted in 2013, according to brooksbaseball.net, a website that tabulates such data.

While opponents' batting average isn't the greatest measure -- there is a great deal of luck involved when it comes to whether a batted ball drops in or not -- the peripheral numbers also indicate progress. Wheeler's changeup induces one-quarter fewer line drives this year compared to last, and twice as many ground balls. Nearly half of all balls in play on Wheeler's changeups are hit on the ground.

That's what Wheeler wants -- weak contact.

Take one at-bat in his June 3 gem against the Cubs -- 6 2/3 shutout innings -- as an example. Wheeler fed Chris Coghlan fastballs away in the second inning, but he found himself behind 2-1. He slowed it down with a changeup that dashed down and away from the left-handed-hitting Coghlan, who popped it up to third.

"You could tell he's developed more as a pitcher, from a guy that threw 95-97 [mph]. I don't think he relies on his fastball as much as he used to," Coghlan said over the weekend. "Any pitcher that's on and throwing four pitches for strikes, it doesn't matter who you are, it's going to be a tough night. ... As a hitter and as a lineup, if you can start to eliminate pitches [that aren't working for a pitcher], it just gives you a better opportunity to hunt."

The opposite is also true. That Wheeler has turned his changeup into a solid fourth pitch gives opposing hitters something else to think about.

"It gives me another tool to throw at them," Wheeler said.

Domonic Brown, for one, might not have expected it in an Aug. 10 at-bat against Wheeler. Brown was in a 1-1 count when, on back-to-back pitches, Wheeler first threw a 90-mph changeup on the outer half of the plate to set up a 97-mph fastball in on Brown's hands. The left-handed batter swung and missed at both.

"This guy is throwing 97 mph, you better speed your bat up to get to it," manager Terry Collins said. "And so if he's willing to use his changeup, you're going to get swings and misses or you're going to get little ground balls. It's a good pitch for him. It's getting better for him because he's throwing it more."

Any one of Wheeler's pitches plays off the others. His changeup might not be as useful if his fastball didn't reach the high 90s, and the fastball might not be as potent if he couldn't keep hitters off-balance with a curve.

But as Wheeler continues taking these steps forward, both with his changeup and as a pitcher generally, the foundation he's laid in recent months will only benefit him, through the end of this season and into future ones.

"Basically he's found a solid delivery and repeatable delivery, and that way he can get his arm into the same place on each and every pitch, and so he can throw any pitch he wants in any count," Warthen said. "Very seldom does a four-pitch pitcher have all four pitches working on a particular day. On those days, you're supposed to throw a shutout.

"The sky is the limit for Zack. An explosive fastball -- all four of his pitches are well above Major League average. If he gets them close to the plate, then he becomes a dominant pitcher."

{"content":["top_pitching_performances" ] }
{"content":["top_pitching_performances" ] }

Mets ride Duda's bat, Wheeler's arm to win vs. A's

Slugger hits three-run homer; righty allows four runs, two earned

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OAKLAND -- Considering all the things that have gone wrong for the Mets this season, those that have gone right have stood out in stark relief. Two in particular were on display in Wednesday's 8-5 win over the A's: first baseman Lucas Duda's continued emergence and starting pitcher Zack Wheeler's obvious growth.

The former resulted in the crispest highlight of an otherwise sloppy game. Duda's three-run homer off Jeff Samardzija in the third inning at O.co Coliseum padded the Mets' early lead, upping his career-high total to 23. Since taking over as the Mets' everyday first baseman in April, Duda has slowly -- and recently, more rapidly -- developed into a legitimate Major League slugger.

"It's something to build on," Duda said.

Wheeler's growth has likewise accelerated as the season has progressed. Though he was not even close to his sharpest in Wednesday's victory, his ability to overcome multiple defensive lapses behind him served him well.

In the past, Wheeler might have caved amidst the shortcomings of second baseman Daniel Murphy -- a throwing error in the third inning, a bobble in the fourth and a fielding error later that inning, two of which resulted in runs. Instead, Wheeler escaped each rally with minimal damage, pitching into the sixth while holding the A's to four runs, two earned.

"It's easier to pitch when you've got some runs," Wheeler said. "Every time we score, you try and go out there and put up a zero. It didn't happen that way today, but luckily we had the bats going."

In that sense he easily outpitched Samardzija, Oakland's non-waiver Trade Deadline import, who left to scattered boos after giving up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings -- one of them coming on an Eric Campbell solo homer.

"I gave up a couple hits and then [Duda's] home run, which was the dagger," Samardzija said. "A day your team comes out and gives you five runs, you've got to turn those into victories."

The A's did storm back late, drawing three walks -- including one with the bases loaded -- off Vic Black and Jeurys Familia in the eighth. But Familia retired Josh Donaldson, who entered the game in the seventh as a pinch-hitter, on a sharp groundout to leave the potential tying run on base. Then -- with regular closer Jenrry Mejia unavailable due to back stiffness -- Familia worked around a double in the ninth to nail down his fourth save.

That made a winner out of Wheeler, who rebounded from some early hiccups to go 6-0 with a 2.12 ERA since June 30, establishing himself as one of the league's best young starting pitchers. The Mets, in turn, have won seven of Wheeler's last 10 starts. So while his learning curve may have been steeper than that of 2013 All-Star Matt Harvey, Wheeler appears to have conquered it.

"That's our goal, is to go out there every time and try to give our team a chance to win," Wheeler said. "It's been fun."

His emergence gives the Mets two young players with peers in high places. In mid-April, the organization took a significant risk when it traded Ike Davis to the Pirates, effectively choosing Duda over Davis. While Davis, a former first-round Draft pick, has struggled in Pittsburgh, Duda has spent the past two months establishing himself at an elite level. Since June 13, only two big leaguers have more home runs than Duda's 15, and only five have posted a higher OPS.

That does not mean Duda and Wheeler alone can cure the Mets' ills. But when the team begins wading through its year-end inventory and working to improve for 2015, those two will be on the list of solutions -- not problems.

Ten months ago, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said there were only four players guaranteed roster spots on the 2014 club: David Wright, Wheeler, Dillon Gee and Jon Niese. Now there are at least twice that many, with Duda and Familia establishing themselves, Black and Mejia improving the bullpen and Travis d'Arnaud breaking out behind the plate. Curtis Granderson will be back next year and, barring a trade, so will Daniel Murphy. A full 18 months removed from Tommy John surgery, Matt Harvey should be on the roster as well.

So it's fair for the Mets to be optimistic about 2015, even if they refuse to look completely past 2014 just yet.

"I think right now you can't really look at personal stats or whatever it is," Duda said. "You've got to think about winning games. Some people think that we're out of it, but everybody in the room believes we still have a chance. That's all we need."

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Mejia unavailable in series finale vs. A's

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OAKLAND -- Minor injuries continue to affect Mets closer Jenrry Mejia, who was unavailable to close out Wednesday's win over the A's due to a sore back.

Mejia's back has bothered him for most of this month, though he has pitched through it as often as possible. In reality, it is just one of several concerns; Mejia is also pitching with a hernia, which he plans to have surgically repaired after the season, and recently recovered from a sore right calf.

"It's nothing serious," Mejia said of his most recent ailment. "My back's a little bit tight and I want to be 100 percent."

Though Mejia insists none of his injuries are affecting him on the mound, he has posted an 8.22 ERA over his last eight appearances, converting two of his three save opportunities in that time.

With Mejia unavailable Wednesday, setup man Jeurys Familia recorded the final five outs for his fourth save.

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Nieuwenhuis a late scratch due to stiff neck

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OAKLAND -- Mets outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis was a late scratch from Wednesday's game against the A's with a stiff neck.

Nieuwenhuis, who began feeling neck pain on the Mets' cross-country flight Monday night from New York to Oakland, received a treatment of electrical nerve stimulation on Wednesday morning. He said he was feeling "much better" at the time and apparently convinced manager Terry Collins, who slotted him into the lineup as his starting right fielder.

But Collins altered the lineup shortly thereafter, shifting Curtis Granderson to right field and inserting Eric Young Jr. into left.

Nieuwenhuis, 27, is batting .233 with two homers in 84 plate appearances split amongst four Major League stints. He has spent most of the season at Triple-A Las Vegas.

Collins also gave regular center fielder Juan Lagares a routine day of rest on Wednesday, starting Matt den Dekker at that position.

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Niese aims to take a step forward vs. Dodgers

Lefty is attempting to regain his form after spending time on the DL

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After splitting a two-game Interleague set in Oakland with an 8-5 win over the A's on Wednesday, the Mets will make their only visit to Dodger Stadium this season, opening a three-game weekend set against the National League West-leading Dodgers on Friday night.

Left-hander Jon Niese will take the mound for New York. Since returning from a stint on the disabled list with a strained left shoulder, Niese has gone 2-4 with a 4.97 ERA. He had a 2.96 ERA prior to being placed on the DL. In his last outing, he allowed three runs on seven hits over six innings to beat the Cubs last Saturday.

"It's definitely not a step back," said Niese, who continues to try to regain his pre-DL form. "I felt really good tonight. Just still working, just was able to build off my last one."

Niese will face a Dodgers lineup that has struggled against southpaws this season, entering Wednesday's game against the Padres batting .236 against lefties.

The Dodgers haven't announced a starter for Friday's series opener, as Zack Greinke was pushed back to Saturday and Clayton Kershaw will start on Thursday.

Mets: Eveland gets cortisone injection in elbow
Left-handed reliever Dana Eveland received a cortisone injection in his pitching elbow on Tuesday after experiencing elbow inflammation.

Eveland had posted a 2.00 ERA through July 30, but he had a 6.75 ERA in seven appearances since. Eveland said he had been having elbow discomfort for weeks, but it really flared up in an Aug. 12 outing against the Nationals.

"It's been barking a little bit on and off for the last month and a half, but I've been throwing through it," Eveland said. "I've had some days where I felt real good and some other days where I didn't feel as good, and I feel like my pitching hasn't been as sharp as it had been the first month and a half since I've been here."

Eveland said he was already feeling the effects of the cortisone shot on Wednesday, and manager Terry Collins said he should be available for Friday's series opener against the Dodgers.

Dodgers: Crawford swinging red-hot bat
Left fielder Carl Crawford entered Wednesday's game against the Padres batting .420 (21-for-50) since Aug. 4, notching eight multihit games in 15 contests during that span. He had also stolen a base in four consecutive contests.

Crawford missed 41 games earlier this season with a left ankle sprain, but he has stolen 19 bases in 22 attempts, the most steals he's had since he swiped 47 bags in 2010 for the Rays. The 19 steals were also four more than he stole in 40 more games last season.

Worth noting
• The Dodgers took two of three from the Mets in their only series so far this season.

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Eveland gets cortisone injection in left elbow

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OAKLAND -- The Mets' recent reliance on lefty specialist Josh Edgin has not been coincidence. Dana Eveland, the only other left-hander in New York's bullpen, is nursing a bout of elbow inflammation -- "tennis elbow," as he called it.

Eveland saw a doctor and received a cortisone injection in his left elbow on Tuesday, saying the next morning that he was already feeling its effects. The Mets hope that Eveland will be ready to return in time for Friday's series opener in Los Angeles.

"He'll be fine on Friday," manager Terry Collins said.

Though Eveland said he has been feeling some discomfort in his elbow for weeks, it grew more acute during an Aug. 12 outing against the Nationals. The Mets rested him for five consecutive games after that, but it wasn't enough to eliminate the issue.

"It's been barking a little bit on and off for the last month and a half, but I've been throwing through it," said Eveland, who posted a 2.00 ERA through July 30 and a 6.75 ERA in seven outings since.

"I've had some days where I felt real good and some other days where I didn't feel as good," Eveland said, "and I feel like my pitching hasn't been as sharp as it had been the first month and a half since I've been here."

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Gee's rough fourth inning costly in loss to A's

Righty allows four runs in frame as Mets' offensive struggles continue

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OAKLAND -- By the fourth inning Tuesday, the Mets had recorded their fourth hit, matching their daily output in each of their previous four games. It may have been a moral victory, but it proved to be nothing more than that; the Mets mustered only three other knocks in a 6-2 loss to the A's at O.co Coliseum.

"We've got to certainly put together more than two hits in an inning," manager Terry Collins said. "We've got to get some stuff going."

Proceeding with an unorthodox lineup in hopes of jump-starting their stagnant offense, the Mets instead delivered more of the same. Travis d'Arnaud's homer leading off the fourth inning marked their only damage against A's starter Scott Kazmir, who struck out six in six innings. The tiny flecks of spark the Mets showed early in the game, putting five of their first 10 batters on base, evaporated as Kazmir improved in the middle innings.

Mets starter Dillon Gee did the opposite, showcasing strong early command of his arsenal only to melt down in the fourth. After loading the bases with one out, allowing Oakland's first run on a sacrifice fly and then reloading the bases with a walk to the No. 9 hitter, Gee caved for Coco Crisp's three-run triple. The A's never looked back, even adding two runs on Josh Reddick's homer in the eighth, while their bullpen held the Mets to a single additional run.

"It's been very frustrating," said Gee, who lost his career-high fifth straight decision -- all five since returning from the disabled list on July 9. "But all you can do is try to take the positives from each outing and keep working hard, and try to turn it around."

"Dillon was up in the zone," Collins said. "That's just not where he pitches. I don't know if his rhythm's bad -- I'm not sure what it is. But he's a better pitcher than what's going on right now."

It was that type of game for not just Gee, but all the Mets, whose offensive rut has widened into a canyon. Arriving at the ballpark early Tuesday afternoon, Collins decided his best chance to snap the Mets out of their doldrums was to mix up his lineup. To that end, he rested regular second baseman Daniel Murphy, shifting Juan Lagares into the leadoff spot and Curtis Granderson to the No. 2 hole, and slotting d'Arnaud at designated hitter.

Neither Granderson nor Lagares finished with a hit, which did not make them terribly unique. The Mets, who do not have a .300 hitter on their active roster, averaged 2.3 runs per game on their recent seven-game homestand -- a figure that would have been much lower if not for a seven-run outburst Saturday against the Cubs.

"It's been a rough stretch for a little bit, but that's baseball," d'Arnaud said. "We've just got to keep our heads up and keep fighting every day."

Such stagnant offense did not seem like a recipe for success against the A's, whose own recent slide -- five straight losses -- may have knocked them out of first place, but not out of relevance. The A's still have much to play for, sitting a half-game behind the Angels in the American League West and holding a hammerlock on a playoff berth. As they proved Tuesday, they are plenty capable of rebounding.

The Mets, by contrast, must start considering their own reality as they rapidly fade away from even the fringes of contention. More and more, they know they must look toward 2015 -- whether that means resting David Wright and his balky left shoulder, playing Wilmer Flores on a more regular basis or proceeding cautiously with injured starter Jacob deGrom.

For Gee, it means reestablishing what he was doing prior to his shoulder injury. Before his DL stint, Gee was 3-1 with a 2.73 ERA in eight starts. Since, he is 1-5 with a 5.06 mark.

"It seems like I'll be consistent for a second, and then I'll just lose all consistency with my breaking balls and stuff like that," Gee said. "Those have been hurting me really bad. I haven't been able to get through that one rough inning and just get by."

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{"content":["injury" ] }

deGrom throws to hitters, intends to start Saturday

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OAKLAND -- In what he called "a nice step" toward returning from the right rotator cuff tendinitis that has sidelined him since Aug. 8, Jacob deGrom faced live hitters in a bullpen session Tuesday with the intention of coming back from the disabled list for Saturday's game against the Dodgers.

"I'm fully expecting that I'm fine," deGrom said. "I plan to pitch to the end of the year."

That assumes both that deGrom will not experience any lingering effects in his right shoulder, and that he will not surpass the innings limit of approximately 185 that the Mets have set for him.

Regarding the former issue, deGrom said he threw "with no problems" Tuesday and fully intends to start this weekend.

"I'm ready to get out there," said deGrom, who threw his complete repertoire in the session. "We don't want to rush it, but everything's going to plan right now. I'm just doing what they tell me."

Regarding the innings limit, deGrom's two-week DL stint likely ensured that he will last until the end of the season. The right-hander is currently at 138 2/3 innings with a maximum of seven starts remaining. If he makes all of them and averages seven innings per start, deGrom will finish just barely over the limit.

The Mets, of course, will take every precaution with deGrom, who has entrenched himself in their future plans by going 6-5 with a 2.87 ERA over his first 16 career starts. That is why a half-dozen members of the organization's coaching and training staffs, led by pitching coach Dan Warthen, were out late Tuesday afternoon to watch him face batters.

"There was definitely more adrenaline than when I throw just in a regular bullpen," deGrom said. "When somebody steps in there, the competitiveness kind of takes over, so it was nice to throw to hitters."

{"content":["injury" ] }

Collins tinkers with lineup, bats Lagares leadoff

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OAKLAND -- Seeking to jump-start an offense that came into Tuesday's play with 16 hits in its previous four games, Mets manager Terry Collins drew up one of his most unorthodox lineups of the season against the A's.

Juan Lagares led off. Curtis Granderson batted second for the 10th time this season. Daniel Murphy sat on the bench and Travis d'Arnaud served as the designated hitter.

"We just thought we'd change it up a little," Collins said. "It's not like we're mashing right now."

Mostly, the unorthodox revolved around Murphy, whom Collins wanted to rest given his current funk -- just three hits in his last 24 at-bats. That left the team needing a No. 2 hitter, prompting Granderson to slide down from the leadoff spot and Lagares to fill Granderson's normal role.

"Murphy needed a blow," Collins said. "You can start to see when Dan's swing gets a little long, he's out of gas, because he knows how to hit. He doesn't go through these long stretches where he's not swinging good. What it is is because he's tired."

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Mets' offense sputters in Torres' fine spot start

Righty fires five scorless frames; Duda belts 22nd homer for lone run

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NEW YORK -- Despite a strong outing by Carlos Torres in an emergency start, the Mets' bats couldn't produce. Again.

Torres, who started in place of Bartolo Colon, fired five scoreless innings in a no-decision, as Monday's 4-1 loss to the Cubs on Monday was the fifth consecutive game the Mets finished with four or fewer hits, tying a franchise record. The Mets are also the last Major League team to do so in September 2004.

"There's no easy answers," manager Terry Collins said.

David Wright walked back to the home dugout after swinging and missing at a Hector Rondon fastball in the ninth to cap his 0-for-4 day. The Mets' third baseman heard boos from the crowd of 23,271 at Citi Field. A leadoff double by Daniel Murphy put the potential tying run in the on-deck circle with the middle of the Mets' order due up, but Wright struck out and Lucas Duda flied out before Travis d'Arnaud whiffed to end the game.

Duda provided the Mets' lone run with a fourth-inning homer. His 22nd blast of the year came after right-hander Kyle Hendricks threw him three sinkers. Duda watched the first, missed the second and connected on the third, sending it more than 400 feet beyond the wall in right-center.

Other than that, the offense was listless. Curtis Granderson, Murphy and Matt den Dekker were the only other Mets to record a hit against Hendricks, along with relievers Neil Ramirez and Rondon.

Hendricks got through seven innings on 94 pitches.

"It's easy to look at his pitch count and say we were too aggressive, but if you don't go up there and swing, you're going to be down 0-1, 0-2 and that's no fun either," said Wright, whose dealing with a sore left shoulder. "It's OK to be aggressive. We're just not squaring the ball up, and the pitches we are [hitting], we're either rolling them over and getting ground balls, or maybe getting under them a little too much and hitting fly balls."

Added Hendricks: "We had a really good meeting before the series, and everybody went out there with a real good game plan, and both catchers called real good games."

It won't get any easier for the Mets, who head to Oakland to face Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzija -- two All-Stars -- before dealing with the Dodgers' loaded rotation over the weekend.

Receiving little offensive support on Monday was Torres, who didn't find out he was starting until arriving at the ballpark in the morning. Colon, who went to the Dominican Republic to be with his ailing mother, will be placed on the bereavement list prior to Tuesday's series opener with the A's.

The Cubs, however, scored single runs off relievers Dana Eveland and Buddy Carlyle, and Javier Baez added a ninth-inning, two-run homer off Jenrry Mejia.

Anthony Rizzo's homer off Carlyle in the eighth, a laser to right-center, broke a 1-1 tie and ended the right-hander's 13-inning scoreless streak.

Torres didn't have particularly sharp command of the strike zone -- he threw 48 of 86 pitches (56 percent) for strikes and issued first-pitch strikes to just seven of 20 batters -- but the results were solid. He struck out six while scattering three hits and two walks.

Torres' biggest jam came when Chicago loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth. Welington Castillo swung and missed at a cutter away to end the inning.

"Toward the end, you could tell I was getting a little tired," Torres said. "I just needed to get back in there, get on top of the ball a little more and drive it down, vs. leaving them a little higher."

It was Torres' first start since last September, and this outing was his longest of the season. He went about it carefully.

"You start with one and hope you get through one and go from there," Torres said. "Because that very easily could have been two innings and out of the ballgame with eight runs. So you have to go with one inning no matter what, whether you're starting or relieving."

Most days, it would've been good enough for a win. Most days, the Mets' offense doesn't get shut down the way it has of late.

"I don't think it's a mindset or I don't think it's a philosophical thing," Wright said. "It's a more of execution, and we're not doing that."

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Colon scratched, heading to bereavement list

Righty, who was slated to face Cubs on Monday, leaves to be with ailing mother

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NEW YORK -- Mets manager Terry Collins got to the office on Monday morning and learned of a sudden change of plans.

Bartolo Colon, who had been scheduled to start in the series finale against the Cubs, was scratched. The right-hander was to fly home to the Dominican Republic to be with his critically ill mother.

Following Monday's 4-1 loss, the club announced via Twitter that Colon will be placed on the bereavement list and right-hander Gonzalez Germen will be recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas in advance of Tuesday's series opener at Oakland.

Right-hander Carlos Torres started in Colon's place on Monday and worked five scoreless frames in a no-decision. Before the game, Collins said he hoped to get four, maybe five innings out of Torres, who threw two pitches and recorded one out on Sunday.

Torres didn't find out he was going to start until he got to the stadium on Monday morning. It was his first start since last September, and this outing was his longest of the season. He went about it carefully.

"You start with one and hope you get through one and go from there," Torres said. "Because that very easily could have been two innings and out of the ballgame with eight runs. So you have to go with one inning no matter what, whether you're starting or relieving."

As a long man in the Mets' bullpen, Torres has thrown up to 81 pitches in 4 2/3 innings. That outing came on July 4, when starter Jon Niese left after one out. Torres also managed four innings (63 pitches) on June 15.

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{"content":["injury" ] }

Wright gets treatment on ailing shoulder

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NEW YORK -- As the Mets showered, dressed and scurried out of the clubhouse, eager to enjoy a rare evening without work or travel, following a 2-1 loss to the Cubs on Sunday, their captain remained.

David Wright was busy receiving 45-60 minutes of treatment on his sore left shoulder, which has given him problems for two months and was re-aggravated when it absorbed the blow of an 88-mph fastball on Saturday night.

Wright, who was unavailable to the media before and after Sunday's game, didn't play in the loss. Manager Terry Collins made it sound as though Wright's availability on Monday -- at the very least -- was in doubt, as well.

The injury comes at an unfortunate time for Wright, whose recent 13-game hit streak helped him break out of a second-half slump. His slash line is still just .232/.289/.250 since the All-Star break -- which coincides with him receiving a cortisone shot in his ailing shoulder -- and he is weathering a down year overall. Wright's .711 OPS is far below his career mark of .874, and he's on pace for career lows in on-base percentage (.331) and slugging percentage (.380).

Collins downplayed the idea that this could be the beginning of a decline for the 31-year-old.

"David Wright will bounce back, whether it's next week or next year," Collins said. "This guy keeps himself in tip-top shape."

The manager did, however, acknowledge that the more recent struggles could be related to the shoulder issue.

"I do believe any time you compensate for an injury, you're going to change something so the pain is not there," Collins said. "The minute you change something, you can fall into a habit -- not necessarily a good habit. I know David, when he talked about it, tried to do some things at the plate to keep it from bothering him. It got to the point where he just had to finally speak up [in late June].

"Did he create some bad habits? Possibly. Has it been bothering him lately? I trust my players. When he says it hasn't been bothering him, it hasn't been bothering him. We'll see where it goes from here."

{"content":["injury" ] }

Dice-K to make another rehab start

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NEW YORK -- Daisuke Matsuzaka's sharp rehab outing on Saturday, during which he needed just 69 pitches (43 strikes) to get through six innings with three strikeouts and no walks, was another promising step forward in his recovery from a sore right elbow that has kept him sidelined since late July.

The right-hander will pitch in another Minor League game this week, likely on Thursday for short-season Class A Brooklyn, according to manager Terry Collins. The Cyclones are home at MCU Park that day.

After that, though, Matsuzaka's future is uncertain.

"We're very happy with the way he threw," Collins said. "But right now, we aren't sure where the fit is going to be when he's ready to pitch here."

With Jacob deGrom nearing his return from the disabled list, there aren't any spots in the rotation -- despite the Mets giving Matsuzaka some length in his rehab games. There also isn't anyone in the bullpen who has merited a demotion.

Even right-hander Buddy Carlyle -- who signed a Minor League contract with the Mets in February and has usually been the odd-man out, having been designated for assignment twice already this season -- is going good. He is riding an 11 1/3-inning scoreless streak, the longest of any Mets reliever this season, and owns a 0.55 ERA and 0.74 WHIP.

Although most of his work has come in low-leverage situations, Carlyle has struck out 15 batters and walked three over 16 1/3 innings.

Collins has recently started trusting Carlyle in tighter games, including the ninth inning of Saturday's win and part of the eighth inning in a two-run contest against the Phillies on Monday. It was his first Major League hold since May 2009.

"Buddy has pitched very, very well," Collins said. "When it comes to the roster spaces and who's on or who's off, [general manger Sandy Alderson is] pretty heavily involved with that. When [Matsuzaka is] ready to go, we'll have to figure out where he fits. Right now, we haven't really had that discussion."

One possibility is the Mets leaving Matsuzaka on the DL until rosters expand on Sept. 1. If he does pitch on Thursday, one additional Minor League game would bring him to the end of the month.

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Good news from deGrom: 'No pain'

Rookie right-hander throws, could return soon from rotator cuff tendinitis

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Good news from deGrom: 'No pain' play video for Good news from deGrom: 'No pain'

NEW YORK -- Jacob deGrom met with the media prior to Saturday's contest against the Cubs and, after several days of uncertainty regarding the tendinitis in his right rotator cuff, the rookie right-hander was back to being all smiles.

"Threw out to 90 feet, and no problems with it. That's good news," deGrom said. "No pain. As good as I could hope for."

Next, deGrom will likely throw a bullpen session Sunday, though beyond that there is no set schedule. A Minor League rehabilitation assignment could be in the works, and the hope remains that deGrom will miss only two starts.

That would put him on track to start next Saturday against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

"In an ideal world, yes," manager Terry Collins said. "I'm not sure we live in one of those."

With the Mets' off-day Thursday, the club does have the option of simply skipping that slot in the rotation -- currently filled by Rafael Montero, who will pitch Sunday -- and sliding deGrom in whenever he is ready, in the event he needs an extra day or two. The wild card in that decision is Daisuke Matsuzaka (sore right elbow), who pitched for Double-A Binghamton on Saturday and is being stretched out in case the Mets need him to be a starter.

But that's a decision for another day. For now, deGrom and the Mets are just happy this first step back was a step forward.

"We really are [encouraged]," Collins said, adding that deGrom "says he feels great, there's no discomfort at all. Hopefully we're on the right track."

Given that deGrom was likely going to be shut down sometime next month when he reached his innings limit -- believed to be in the neighborhood of 180-185 -- he sees the silver lining in this minor injury.

"That's a plus," said deGrom, who has already thrown 138 2/3 innings between the Majors and Triple-A Las Vegas. "I think at some point I was going to get shut down anyway with an innings limit, so I guess it came at a good time. Get it back feeling 100 percent and hopefully finish the season strong.

"I was relieved when I got the MRI and the results came back. To go out today and not feel anything was a good feeling."

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Escape plan: Bring in tenacious rookie Black

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NEW YORK -- Vic Black has been so good at escaping jams, Mets manager Terry Collins said, the coaches have considered bringing him in only when there are runners on base, and not for a clean inning -- the opposite of how a team would normally want to treat a young reliever.

As Black, 26, proved again Saturday in a 7-3 win over the Cubs, there is some merit to the idea. Collins called on Black in relief of Jon Niese, who left with the bases loaded and nobody out in the seventh inning, and Black was up to the task. He disposed of the top of the Cubs' lineup -- Chris Coghlan (liner to left), Javier Baez (popout to first) and Anthony Rizzo (popout to short) -- on eight pitches, allowing no runners to score.

"He's been unbelievable. The job he's done to come in with guys on base is truly amazing," Collins said. "He has not flinched. His command -- it's 10 times better when there are guys on. ... He just comes in with his eyes just focused. You say something to him, he just nods his head and goes about his job."

The three inherited runners Black stranded give him 20 in a row and 22 of 23 on the season -- a success rate of nearly 96 percent, among the best in baseball.

Against Black, batters are hitting .121 with a .194 on-base percentage and .212 slugging mark in 33 at-bats with runners in scoring position. When the bases are empty, those numbers jump up to .259/.355/.333.

"To be able to go out and compete and be in a situation that will benefit your team, especially help out one of your guys, is the most fun part," Black said. "Overall, the biggest deal is going into it knowing that you've done it before."

Black can recall in an instant the first time he did it. It was his third game as a freshman at Dallas Baptist University, and in the bottom of the 11th inning against Texas Christian University he loaded the bases with nobody out. A popup to the catcher and two strikeouts later, he escaped. He let out a celebratory scream after that last pitch -- a high heater the batter chased.

"You have to figure out a way to do it," Black said. "So now when I come into these situations it's things I've done, I've seen, gone over in my head before, so there's really no surprise."

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If something's wrong with Wright, Mets can relax

A shoulder injury to third baseman would provide good reason for his difficulties at bat

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If something's wrong with Wright, Mets can relax play video for If something's wrong with Wright, Mets can relax

NEW YORK -- All right, admit it: You hope David Wright is hurting. You'd rather that a couple of maladies be the underlying reasons for the underwhelming production of the Mets' third baseman this season rather than suppose that he is healthy and nonetheless producing at rates comparable to those of a third-base predecessor named Richie Hebner (see 1979).

The latter scenario is unsettling to the Mets and those who follow their adventures, and particularly troubling for the folks in the front office. What if, when this season ends, Wright has a batting average and other more critical measurements of his production that are more comparable to those of Roy Staiger (third baseman, 1976 Mets) than those third baseman Howard Johnson created in his 30-30 years? What then if Wright still insists that injuries played no part in a season of disappointing performance?

It is a sobering thought. Whatever stage of renaissance the Mets have reached at this point, legitimate and conspicuous improvement is unfathomable without greater contributions from their third baseman and the acquisition of a right-handed bat with the sort of pop that Wright routinely demonstrated through 2012.

Eliminating all benefits of the doubt and the softer wording usually afforded Wright, he ain't cutting it these days. Mets manager Terry Collins expressed concern about Wright's lack of production earlier this summer. And Wright hasn't pleaded innocent in that regard. After a fruitless day at the office Monday -- he was hitless in four at-bats in the Mets' 4-1 loss to the Cubs at Citi Field -- Wright said, "Obviously, my numbers are not where I'd like them to be."

What Wright never explained was why, leaving his constituency to wonder and hope injury has been his undoing.

Wright's .270 batting average, .329 on-base percentage and .377 slugging percentage are ... well, below average for a third baseman and well below the standards he established for himself. Among the 125 big league players who, through Sunday, had hit more home runs that Wright -- he had eight -- were such notable sluggers as Cubs third basemen Mike Olt and Luis Valbuena, Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez, Astros first baseman Jon Singleton and Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal. All but Dominguez had significantly fewer at-bats than Wright.

The Cubs' heralded rookie Javier Baez hit his fifth home on Monday. He has 60 at-bats.

An element of the problems that have beset Wright and made him less of an offensive threat still involves the dimensions of Citi Field, seemingly designed, even after the alterations that preceded the 2012 season, to offset his power. The distance to the right-center-field fence in Citi Field remains a head scratcher.

The lack of genuine protection in a mostly defused batting order is another reason. Lucas Duda, even with his 22 home runs, is nowhere near the deterrent Carlos Delgado was in the years Wright was a legitimate National League MVP Award candidate. But there has to be more to Wright's season than home environment and the prowess of those following him in the order.

* * * * *

No one will be surprised if, come Oct. 1, the Mets announce that Wright has undergone successful surgery to repair his left shoulder or another critical body part. Collins reiterated on Monday that no part of Wright's body is structurally damaged. But no matter how much he now denies the impact of injury, Wright remains one of the game's primary stoics, a man unwilling to say "ouch."

Cal Ripken Jr. and Derek Jeter, two of Wright's role models, have denied and silently dealt with injuries. It is noble to assume that posture, but it also can be costly for a team. The term "rally killer" has been applied to Wright of late. Difficult to imagine that. Would the Mets be better off were Wright to excuse himself from the remaining games, heal and allow a healthier body to take his place?

Probably not. Their roster is so thin that Collins used Jon Niese as a pinch-hitter with the Mets leading by a run and two outs in the fifth inning Monday.

And -- have you noticed? -- Wright's age now finds its way into newspaper and Internet reports more often than it has for most of his career. It is journalism code for "he might be showing his age." For now, he is properly identified as 31. Come Dec. 20, if Wright's production doesn't improve in the remaining 32 games and he stands by his "I'm fine" declarations, he may be described as an "old 32." More difficult to imagine.

But if Wright is, as he says, healthy enough to play, then to what other reason can we attribute his decline and this long lapse in extra-base and run production? Keith Hernandez, an astute observer of batters' mechanics, insists Wright's swing is long, that the third baseman isn't quick to the pitch as he was even three years ago. A former Met who now plays for a different club recently noted that Wright can't drive pitches to right-center as he has in the past.

Moreover, a school of thought exists that Wright still is unsettled by tight pitches, a long-lasting and quite understandable effect of being beaned by Matt Cain five years and three days ago.

Wright played Monday after missing the Sunday loss to the Cubs because of pain in his left shoulder. He had been hit in the shoulder by a pitch thrown by Dan Straily on Saturday. The pitch pinpointed the area that Wright had claimed no longer was a problem. But it probably was. So hope does exist. The shoulder is an issue after all, even if he won't acknowledge it. "If I'm in the lineup, I expect to produce," is as much as Wright would allow on Monday.

So, to some degree and in a strange way, the Mets can relax. Wright is hurting and was hurting even before Straily's pitch bruised his already bruised left rotator cuff. With road series against the A's and Dodgers next on the Mets' agenda, pain in Wright's left shoulder is about as positive a piece of news as the club is likely to get for a while.

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Mejia gives up late homer as Mets fall to Cubs

Montero impresses in allowing one run over 7 1/3 innings

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Mejia gives up late homer as Mets fall to Cubs play video for Mejia gives up late homer as Mets fall to Cubs

NEW YORK -- The Mets lost, 2-1, to the Cubs at Citi Field on Sunday afternoon, their first loss in three games against Chicago this weekend. It was a tight one that might have tilted the other way had Starlin Castro not hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth or if the Mets had figured out Chicago right-hander Jake Arrieta before he departed after seven scoreless innings.

But given the Mets' place in the standings and the time of year, the most important development wasn't the final score. It was the fact that Rafael Montero, a right-hander making his sixth Major League start, fashioned his most impressive outing yet by spinning 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball.

"It was really good for him to have a game up here where he knows he can be successful," manager Terry Collins said of Montero, who could very well end up back at Triple-A Las Vegas with Jacob deGrom on track to return to the rotation next weekend. "No matter what happens here in a few days, certainly he has to be very happy with the way he threw today -- and his confidence has got to be pretty high."

Montero exhibited a degree of resiliency previously unseen from the 23-year-old, bending but not breaking as he navigated a strikeout-prone Cubs lineup into the eighth inning -- the deepest he has pitched as a Major Leaguer. Chicago put the leadoff runner on in five of Montero's eight innings, but only one of them scored.

The Cubs' lone run off Montero scored in the fourth. Javier Baez drew his first walk in 55 Major League plate appearances, and Luis Valbuena brought him in with a two-out, line-drive single to right field.

By the time manager Terry Collins took the ball from him in the eighth, Montero had held the Cubs to one run on five hits and two walks. He struck out six -- half of them via swings-and-misses on his changeup -- and didn't give up a home run for the first time.

All of that represented a significant improvement over his five-run, five-inning effort against the Nationals on Tuesday, when he was a spot-starter fresh off a plane from Las Vegas and didn't exactly know where his locker was when he walked into the Mets clubhouse.

Much of Montero's effectiveness was the result of a good changeup. He threw it only 7 percent of the time against Washington, according to brooksbaseball.net. But with the encouragement of pitching coach Dan Warthen to attack hitters the way he did in the Minors, nearly one-quarter of Montero's offerings on Sunday were changeups.

"You saw how effective his secondary stuff is. We had heard his changeup is outstanding, and today he showed it. He showed great use of it, great location with it," Collins said. "Once they started going up there looking for some offspeed stuff, he snuck some fastballs by guys that he hasn't been doing."

Added catcher Anthony Recker: "He was able to start [the changeup] for a strike and drop it out of the zone a lot. It had good depth on it, too. It was a good pitch for him today. We tried to use it as much as we could."

The Mets had their chances, despite being held to four hits for a third consecutive game. They put the leadoff man on base four times, and twice he stood on second before the first out. They didn't convert until the eighth, when Curtis Granderson singled to plate Eric Young Jr.

New York went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded four runners while playing without two of its biggest bats. David Wright sat out with a sore left shoulder, and Travis d'Arnaud gave way to Recker for a day-game-after-a-night-game reprieve.

Arrieta allowed two hits while striking out nine over his seven innings. Collins credited his big curve for much of that.

"I just had a good feel for it, and was able to throw it in multiple counts for a strike below the zone -- so it was there for me when I needed it today," Arrieta said. "[Catcher John] Baker saw that it was a pretty effective pitch, especially with the life off the fastball."

Jenrry Mejia gave up Castro's long ball in the ninth. The Chicago shortstop sent a first-pitch fastball over the fence in right.

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HBP, Wright exits with soreness in troubled shoulder

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HBP, Wright exits with soreness in troubled shoulder play video for HBP, Wright exits with soreness in troubled shoulder

NEW YORK -- Mets manager Terry Collins has been looking for a reason to give David Wright a day off before the team's off-day Thursday. Now he has one.

The third baseman exited Saturday's 7-3 win against the Cubs in the seventh inning due to posterior left shoulder soreness, the team announced. Wright was hit in the back by a pitch -- an 88-mph fastball from Dan Straily -- in the bottom of the sixth inning. He stayed in the game and came around to score, but Eric Campbell replaced him at third base in the seventh.

More troublesome than the hit-by-pitch itself is where it got Wright -- the back of his left shoulder, which has already given him issues this season.

"Out of my whole back it had to be kind of that one area," Wright said. "It shouldn't be anything. It's just bruised up and sore and a little stiff. See how it feels tomorrow."

Collins said Wright will probably get "a day or so off," though he will wait to see how Wright feels physically in the morning before making that determination.

Wright missed seven games at the end of June and beginning of July due to soreness in the same shoulder. Recently, he has regularly downplayed the effect it might be having on his game -- including his .236 average and .283 on-base percentage since he received a cortisone shot -- while Collins has referenced it as a situation that merits monitoring.

Wright stuck to his usual no-excuses tone Saturday night.

The coaches "thought it was best to give it a little bit of a rest," Wright said. "I just wish it had been a different spot. It kind of got me in a perfect spot."

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Niese does it again, turns back Cubs

Left-hander records second consecutive quality outing to pace Mets

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NEW YORK -- As Jon Niese struggled throughout the last month, seeking to regain the sub-3.00-ERA form he had before the All-Star break and before a disabled-list stint that he didn't want anything to do with, Terry Collins tried to reassure him. It'll come back, the Mets manager said: "Maybe it's the next time."

Saturday night against the Cubs might have been the "next time." In a 7-3 Mets win, Niese held the Cubs to three runs in six-plus innings, a showing that was especially impressive early before the New York bullpen bailed him out of trouble in the seventh. The left-hander ended up scattering seven hits and two walks while striking out six batters in the free-swinging Chicago lineup to collect his 50th career win.

Combined with a seven-inning, two-run effort Monday against the Phillies, Niese has back-to-back quality starts for the first time since late June.

"It's definitely not a step back," said Niese, who was on the DL with a left shoulder strain. "I felt really good tonight. Just still working, just was able to build off my last one."

Niese was strong early, with Welington Castillo's solo homer in the fifth representing the only blemish, but he unraveled in the seventh. Chicago's first five batters -- including a Justin Ruggiano long ball to lead off -- reached to score thrice and force Niese from the game.

Right-hander Vic Black extricated the Mets from the bases-loaded, no-out jam by retiring the top of the Cubs lineup -- Chris Coghlan, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo. It was the latest in a serious of impressive escape acts from the rookie reliever who started the season in Triple-A Las Vegas but has since become a late-inning regular.

"Terry said get a ground ball and I'm thinking, 'Ground ball at best is a double play and if it's not to home, that's a run scored,' " Black said. "I know what I would want there [if] that's my run."

The Mets touched up Niese's counterpart, Dan Straily, for seven runs (five earned) over 5 1/3 innings thanks to two big frames -- with only four hits on the night.

Wilmer Flores, minutes after ending the top of the second with a flashy diving stop and throw to first, highlighted a three-run bottom half of the inning with a line-drive single to left-center to plate Matt den Dekker and Juan Lagares. Lagares' ground-rule double had scored Travis d'Arnaud.

The Mets stayed quiet until the sixth, when they extended their lead with four runs on only one hit. Straily walked den Dekker with the bases loaded to score one, and two more came in when Chicago center fielder Arismendy Alcantara -- a recently converted middle infielder -- dropped Lagares' drive to right-center. den Dekker then scored on Niese's groundout.

In between those two rallies, Straily set down 12 consecutive batters.

"I was trying to keep them off balance," Straily said. "I didn't have my best stuff out there. I was able to keep them off balance until I couldn't find the strike zone in the sixth."

David Wright led off the big sixth with a hit-by-pitch in the back. He ran the bases, but then came out of the game and the Mets reported he had posterior shoulder soreness. He will likely sit out at least Sunday, though the Mets will wait to see how it feels in the morning before making that decision.

Arguably the biggest blow of the night, given the then-tight score and his relative struggles of late, was from Flores. It came hours after Collins said it's still too small of a sample size -- given that the team named him the No. 1 shortstop just over a week ago -- to judge whether he will be the offensive threat the organization has long projected him to be. Flores entered Saturday hitting .241/.267/.241 in eight games as the starter.

"I told him he's having tomorrow off, so I guess he said, 'I'm going to leave it on the field tonight,' " Collins said.

Collins also noted before the game that Flores, whom the Mets moved away from shortstop in 2012 before moving him back this spring, has made all the routine plays -- which is all he'll need to make to stick at the position if he can hit like most expect. As if in on that conversation, Flores flashed some leather in the second, ranging to his right to dive for Castillo's sharp grounder, then firing from the edge of the infield dirt to get the runner at first.

He waited for a moment for first-base umpire Will Little to signal out, then jogged off the field to a fist bump from Wright.

"I thought," Collins said, "it was a pretty good statement."

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Wheeler's 10 K's, Campbell's blast lift Mets

Righty turns in ninth straight quality start; left fielder hits three-run shot

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Wheeler's 10 K's, Campbell's blast lift Mets play video for Wheeler's 10 K's, Campbell's blast lift Mets

NEW YORK -- When the Mets cut ties with Chris Young and called up Matt den Dekker last week, they did so with clear intent: Give the younger outfielder a shot in the Majors. den Dekker was demolishing Pacific Coast League pitching, and the organization had long thought highly of his glove, so it was time to see what he could do.

The secondary benefit concerned Eric Campbell, who has consistently produced since his May callup, but rarely got the chance to do so given the glut of outfielders and corner infielders on the Mets' roster. Campbell would get a chance to play against lefties regularly.

Friday night at Citi Field, with a southpaw on the mound in the form of the Cubs' Travis Wood, that secondary benefit became the primary one for the Mets. Campbell's three-run homer in the fourth inning gave them a permanent lead in a 3-2 win, the opener of a four-game series. It was a refreshing change of pace for New York after getting swept by the National League East-leading Nationals earlier this week.

"[Wood] was struggling with his command that inning, so I figured if he's going to throw a strike, it's probably going to be something toward the middle, just trying to get one over. And he did," Campbell said of his game-winning homer. "He left one out over the plate and I got the barrel out there."

It was Campbell's second hit in 17 at-bats on the month and his first home run since May 21. David Wright and Lucas Duda both drew walks and scored on the long ball that landed in the Party Deck in left field.

"Walks killed me. If you take out half the walks, it'd be a pretty solid game," Wood said. "That was the game. I had the two walks to start the fourth and the guy [Campbell] hit the ball out of the park. I gave up four hits, and one of them happened to be a long ball with two walks and that was the game."

Right-hander Zack Wheeler and the Mets' bullpen took it from there. Wheeler lasted 6 2/3 innings, striking out 10 -- including five in the first two innings -- while allowing two runs on four hits and four walks.

Wheeler's 120 pitches were a career high, and he made it through his last 3 2/3 innings without allowing a hit after early trouble. The Mets' late-inning triumvirate of Vic Black, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia kept Chicago hitless the rest of the way.

For Wheeler, it was the latest in a series of successful starts in what is becoming an impressive sophomore campaign. He owns a 2.02 ERA in his last nine games, a stretch of quality starts in which he has allowed more than two earned runs just once.

That streak appeared to be in danger when Wheeler found himself at 59 pitches through three innings. Then he settled down.

"[Wheeler] can overpower some teams," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He was throwing the ball very well early. He got some strikeouts early, and I think he went back to pitching to contact where he got some easier outs. He got some outs with two and three pitches as opposed to seven."

Wheeler said he indeed made more of an effort to pitch to contact, so he had a better chance of lasting longer.

"Obviously everybody knows my pitch count is always high," Wheeler said. "I always try to pitch to contact early, but sometimes I catch myself trying to do too much sequence-wise or command-wise. So sometimes you'll catch yourself with a lot of pitches at the beginning of the game, so you try to pitch a little more to the outer and inner thirds instead of just the corner."

The Cubs reached Wheeler for a pair of runs in the third. When Javier Baez -- Chicago's rookie sensation -- singled to center, Wood tested Juan Lagares' arm and safely went from first to third. Anthony Rizzo grounded out to plate Wood, and Starlin Castro singled to bring Baez home.

Wheeler escaped that frame without further damage an inning after striking out the side when the Cubs put their first two batters on.

For Collins, that is a tangible sign of growth from Wheeler, who might not have reacted in the same fashion as a rookie a year ago.

"That's what he can do," Collins said. "He'll get in a jam, and he'll all of a sudden take over the inning. A year ago, he would try to maneuver his way through. He just said, 'Listen, I may not be here in the seventh inning, but they're not scoring this inning' and take over the inning and dominate it and get some strikeouts and get out of it."

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Mejia bounces back strong after rough stretch

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Mejia bounces back strong after rough stretch play video for Mejia bounces back strong after rough stretch

NEW YORK -- As Jenrry Mejia threw his warmup pitches prior to the top of the ninth inning on Friday night, a familiar -- but unusual, given the circumstances -- tune blasted from the Citi Field public address system: Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."

Mejia successfully closed out the Mets' 3-2 win, any inspiration from the closer's new warmup song apparently failing to manifest in the form of a comeback for the Cubs. That's fine by Mejia, though, because as far as he's concerned, the intended message wasn't for the trailing visitors, but for the Mets and their fans, who shouldn't stop believing in themselves or the team in a big-picture sense.

Mejia certainly isn't. He pitched a perfect ninth inning for the second game in a row Friday following three days of rest, which came immediately after he blew a save and revealed he has been playing with a hernia on Sunday. That capped a stretch in which he allowed runs in three of four outings, his worst series of appearances since early June.

Though the injury will require constant monitoring, it's hardly a threat to Mejia's ability most days.

"I think the rest has helped him out," manager Terry Collins said. "He's never mentioned the hernia, he's never mentioned the leg. I think the rest, just got some life back in the arm. He's been used a lot. We have to monitor that."

Added Mejia: "Today [the back] felt good. Maybe tomorrow, I don't know how I'm going to feel."

Mejia is also nursing a sore right calf that caused him to exit a game last week. Although that situation will also be one the Mets watch, it does not seem to be much more than the typical wear and tear players deal with at this time of year.

Friday, the calf was only "a little bit" of an issue, according to Mejia.

"Not like before," Mejia said. "Now it feels better."

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Ice Bucket Challenge extra meaningful for Campbell

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Ice Bucket Challenge extra meaningful for Campbell

NEW YORK -- The Mets participated in the latest viral fundraiser on Thursday at Citi Field, taking part in the Ice Bucket Challenge that is meant to raise awareness of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The team stepped onto the warning track near the home dugout during an unusually cool August afternoon in Queens as some Mets (mostly veterans) dumped eight buckets of ice water on others (mostly rookies).

For one of those rookies, Eric Campbell, the Mets' participation in the cause carried extra significance. One of the driving forces behind the Ice Bucket Challenge is Pete Frates, Campbell's former Boston College teammate who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012. Frates can no longer walk or talk.

"For [the Mets] to take the time out and do this, I'm sure it means a lot to everybody who has either been involved or has somebody that's been affected by it," Campbell said. "It's awesome. Whatever can raise more awareness for it, the more people that get involved, the better."

During Frates' time as a college baseball player, he left his mark on Campbell and countless others. When Campbell was still in high school and on a visit to B.C., Frates -- then just an underclassman -- was one of the first people he met on campus.

"[Frates] really made me feel at home there. He was overly nice to me and my parents," Campbell said. "You meet a lot of players [while visiting], but when you're eating breakfast in the cafeteria, he left his table and came over to my table just to make sure we were enjoying our stay and letting us know that anything we need, to call him. Little stuff like that, that's the type of guy he is."

Frates captained the Eagles in 2007, Campbell's second of three seasons at B.C. before the Mets took him in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.

"Anyone that ever meets [Frates] would be instant friends with him," Campbell said.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has garnered a great deal of attention in the last few weeks, and it has reportedly raised millions of extra dollars for ALS research. It consists of a person (or group) dumping ice water on themselves, then challenging a handful of other people (or groups) to do the same -- as well as make a donation.

The Jets put the Mets up to the task earlier this week. The Mets then challenged the SNY broadcasting team of Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez, as well as Jon Stewart, the host of "The Daily Show."

"Hopefully, everyone just takes a minute to Google what ALS is and what it does to your body," Campbell said. "It's a chance to learn about it."

{}
{"event":["prospect" ] }

Molina racks up 12 more K's for Brooklyn

Right-handed Mets prospect has fanned 73 in 62 2/3 innings this season

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Right-hander Marcos Molina, the Mets' No. 16 prospect,, struck out a career-high 12 batters in seven scoreless innings Friday, helping short-season Brooklyn defeat Vermont, 7-0.

Molina held the Lake Monsters to one hit (a second-inning single), one walk and one hit batsman. He retired the final six batters he faced, striking out four of them.

Molina has now matched or exceeded his career high for strikeouts in each of his last three starts. That streak began when he matched his then-career high of nine strikeouts in eight innings on Aug. 2 against Connecticut. He struck out 11 in six innings Saturday at Batavia before one-upping himself on Friday.

With the victory, Molina improved to 6-2 with a 1.58 ERA in 10 starts. The 19-year old has struck out 73 batters and walked 12 in 62 2/3 innings this season. He leads the New York-Penn League in strikeouts and WHIP (0.83) and ranks second in ERA.

The Cyclones got an offensive boost Friday from Michael Conforto, the Mets' first-round pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. He went 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs. In 27 games, Conforto, the Mets' No. 4 prospect and No. 82 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects List, is hitting .320/.415/.440.

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Manfred to succeed Selig as next Commissioner

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It's unanimous. Official Major League Baseballs will feature a new signature next year.

Rob Manfred was elected in a 30-0 vote Thursday to succeed Commissioner Bud Selig in January, becoming the 10th person to hold the industry's highest office.

Five hours after deliberations began on the final day of the quarterly Owners Meetings, it was announced that Manfred, MLB's chief operating officer, will formally take over on Jan. 25. Selig has presided over the game for 22 remarkable years.

"We've had quite an interesting day, a lengthy day," Selig said. "We had a significant number of votes, but in the end the vote was unanimous, 30-0. The process is complete."

List of Commissioners
Commissioner Years in office
Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis 1921-44
Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler 1945-51
Ford Christopher Frick 1951-65
General William D. Eckert 1965-68
Bowie Kent Kuhn 1969-84
Peter Victor Ueberroth 1984-88
A. Bartlett Giamatti 1988-89
Francis T. Vincent Jr. 1989-92
Allan H. "Bud" Selig 1992-Present*
Robert D. Manfred Jr. Beginning 2015
*Acting Commissioner from 1992-98

Said Manfred: "I'm tremendously honored by the confidence the owners showed in me. I have very big shoes to fill. [Selig] has been a friend and mentor for me the entire 25 years I've been in the game. There is no question that I would not be standing here today if it were not for Bud. And I hope I will perform in a way that adds to his great legacy."

Selig's tenure resulted in a sweeping transformation of the game, including an unprecedented era in labor peace, a sharp rise in revenue and attendance, a string of new ballparks, improved competitive balance, instant replay, expanded playoffs, the most comprehensive drug-testing program among the major professional sports and the creation of Major League Baseball Advanced Media.

When Manfred, 55, was promoted to COO on Sept. 28, 2013, it put him directly in line to follow Selig. Since then he has overseen all traditional functions of the Commissioner's Office, including labor relations, baseball operations, finance, administration and club governance. But a seven-man search committee, headed by Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., eventually presented a slate of three candidates to the Executive Committee: Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan and Red Sox chairman Tom Werner.

"We ended up with three very strong, highly qualified candidates," DeWitt said. "In the end, Rob Manfred was elected because of his dynamic leadership, his passion for the game, his ability to lead the staff in New York, which he has done, and his overall ability to deal with labor issues and really all aspects of the game. When we put together the requirements for the next Commissioner, he really checked all the boxes.

"You have to have broad-based support. And I think so many people in all aspects of the industry -- large, middle and small markets -- talked about how he was sensitive to their needs. He'll treat everyone equally. It's not about one club or one group of clubs. It's about all 30 clubs."

Brosnan dropped out shortly before the first ballot. "I care too much about the game to let it get dragged down, and I wanted the process to be as efficient as it could," he explained. "We've had a great run under Commissioner Selig, and I look forward to a continued great run under Commissioner Manfred.

"Of course I'm disappointed [about not getting the job]. I wouldn't have gone through this if I didn't think I could do it. But we're in the middle of a great run as an industry, and I look forward to that continuing."

The first several votes ended with Manfred getting 22 of 30 votes, one short of what was needed for election. After a brief recess, the owners reconvened around 5:30 p.m. ET and got to the finish line with Manfred an hour later.

Werner pledged to back Manfred.

"I think that people were receptive to my ideas, and at the end, we all voted unanimously to go forward with Rob," Werner said. "And I'll do everything possible to support him and improve the game. There were a number of votes, maybe five or six. In the end, I think Rob will make a great Commissioner. I'm going to support him and I think that some of the ideas we talked about to speed up the play of the game to capture a generation of young fans, I think we need, and to make the game more popular internationally, I think all those ideas got a warm reception. And I'll continue to work on them."

Said Manfred: "What I said to the owners when I came down after the vote was that I didn't even want to think about who was on which side of what issue at points in the process. My commitment was that I would work extremely hard day in and day out to convince all 30 of them that they made a great decision today."

The early reaction was bullish.

"Rob is a strong, strong leader and can build on the accomplishments of the previous Commissioner. He's got the experience and everyone's looking to him to solve the problems baseball faces and to grow the game," said Orioles managing general partner Peter Angelos. "He's been at it for years. He's gotten his Ph D. He knows every facet and has a great way of getting things accomplished."

Added Giants president and chief executive officer Larry Baer: "The process was kind of like making sausage, but I think that will have a shelf life of about 20 minutes and then we're off and when Rob takes over in January, nobody's going to be thinking about that. Over the years, he's engendered a lot of trust and confidence from the clubs because he's worked very closely with the clubs on a whole lot of issues.

"There's a lot of confidence that the game grew well in the period with Bud and that somebody who was at his side is well-positioned to foster further growth. Sure, there are challenges and there are issues, but I know in our case baseball has never been more popular in the Bay Area. So I think folks see Rob as someone who can take where we are now and just jump-start it into new dimensions with new ideas and fresh ideas. He's very open-minded."

MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark was also supportive of Manfred's selection.

"On behalf of the players, I want to congratulate Rob Manfred on being named Major League Baseball's 10th Commissioner," Clark said. "As representative of the players, I look forward to working closely with Rob, the clubs' representative, as we strive to sustain the growing popularity and prosperity of our great game. Personally, I have known Rob for more than 15 years, and I'm confident that his vast experience in all aspects of the sport will serve his commissionership well."

Selig, who has praised DeWitt and the search committee throughout the process, pronounced himself happy with the result. "There were differences of opinion, but in the end we came together and did what we always do. And that's what the majority wanted. It's been a great day for baseball and I'm very pleased," he said.

"I've worked with Rob for a long time. He's had great experience. The last couple years, he's dealt with every area and I've given him many tasks, some of them not very pleasant, quite frankly. But he's done them well and there's no doubt in my mind he has the training, the temperament and the experience to be a very, very successful Commissioner."

Manfred has strong ideas about what's good for baseball, but his election also signals a desire to continue in the direction that has led MLB to the heights it currently enjoys. "I'm going to work very hard to maintain that tradition and unity as we move the game forward," he said.

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{"content":["rivalries_east" ] }

Homers haunt Gee as Mets drop series finale to Nats

Righty allows four runs, via two long balls, over six innings in loss

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Homers haunt Gee as Mets drop series finale to Nats play video for Homers haunt Gee as Mets drop series finale to Nats

NEW YORK -- The Mets' Sisyphean season has apparently taken its next turn.

The week began with a renewed sense of excitement surrounding the organization's commitment to younger position players for the last 40-plus games and talk from manager Terry Collins that his club will play meaningful baseball in September for the first time in years.

Now, after the Nationals' 4-1 victory Thursday night to complete a three-game sweep of the Mets and extend Washington's Citi Field win streak to 11, the difference between the team running away with the National League East and the team struggling to reach .500 is as stark as it has been all season.

"There's no secret or anything else I can say other than they outpitched us, they outhit us. They just flat-out outplayed us," captain David Wright said. "They played much better baseball than us these last three days. That's what happens. You get swept when every facet of the game is played by the other team."

The Mets' struggles against the Nationals are not specific to this series, however. They dropped five straight to Washington over the last nine days and are 2-10 overall this season. During the Nationals' 11-game win streak at Citi, a run that dates back more than a year and is the longest ever by a visiting team in Flushing, Washington has outscored the Mets, 74-21.

None of that bodes well for a club that hopes to compete in 2015.

"Those playoff teams, those good teams, [they] find a way to win close games," Wright said. "And they certainly have against us."

The tale Thursday was a familiar one. New York righty Dillon Gee, who has been up and down since returning from the disabled list more than a month ago, was that again in the series finale. Washington righty Stephen Strasburg, who started Opening Day against New York but isn't having the best season in a deep Nationals rotation, quieted the Mets for seven innings.

Two Nationals two-run home runs gave Strasburg all the offensive support he needed. The first came in the opening inning, when Adam LaRoche sent an 0-2 fastball away over the wall in left-center. Bryce Harper doubled the Mets' deficit in the fourth when he homered to deep right-center, the result of Gee leaving an 88-mph fastball over the middle of the plate. Gee preceded both long balls with walks.

"That's what happens," Gee said. "I walked too many guys, and it really hurt me."

Of Harper's six home runs this season, half have come against Mets pitching in the last eight days.

The Mets' best attempt at mirroring those feats came in the fourth inning, when Lucas Duda launched a long fly ball to center that briefly excited the Queens crowd of 22,782 before ultimately dying on the warning track for a sacrifice fly. Daniel Murphy scored.

Duda flied out to the center-field warning track again in the seventh, and Curtis Granderson sent right fielder Michael Taylor to the wall in the eighth, but both balls fell feet short.

"We can't keep the ball in the park, and we can't hit them out," Collins said. "That's the story of this series for sure."

Gee made his way through six innings, during which he allowed four runs on four hits and four walks, tying a season high for free passes.

Strasburg allowed no earned runs while striking out eight by the time he walked off the mound at the end of the seventh. Nationals manager Matt Williams and Collins both credited Strasburg's fastball command, but as Wright pointed out, he had a lot more going on than just that.

"[Strasburg] threw three or four pitches for strikes in any count," Wright said. "When you can back that up with a 97-mph fastball, you're in for a long day, offensively."

These clubs don't meet again until mid-September in Washington, then again in New York in the penultimate series of the season. While those games will likely mean little to the Mets in terms of division standings, the value of playing and playing well will -- like many other aspects of the team's remaining season -- be with an eye toward next year.

Proving -- to themselves, to the Nationals, to the league -- they can beat the best team in the division could go a long way come Spring Training.

"We know they're a good team and we don't play them very well. There's no question about that," Collins said. "They've been a thorn in our side in the last two or three years, for sure. They do so many things to beat you. They can all run, they can all field, they can all hit the ball out of the ballpark. You really have to play your 'A' game to beat them."

{"content":["rivalries_east" ] }
{"content":["injury" ] }

Collins: Harvey 'not going to pitch this year'

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NEW YORK -- Matt Harvey and Terry Collins seem to be on the same page, for now.

The Mets' injured ace and manager chatted Thursday to go over the last couple of days, as well as the organization's recently re-emphasized desire for Harvey to tone down the pace and aggressiveness of his Tommy John rehabilitation.

"I'm not worried about Matt," Collins said. "He's going to be fine. I know he's going to be fine. He's going to get through the process. He's not going to pitch this year. I'm settled with that. He's settled with that."

The bottom line of Harvey and Collins' conversation Thursday was simple: Be careful. The Mets don't want what happened to Jeremy Hefner -- another Tommy John patient who recently experienced a serious setback that might require another surgery -- happen to Harvey, who is too important to the organization to miss another year.

Collins tried to make that clear to the right-hander.

"You've got to understand, it's the big picture," Collins told Harvey. "And the big picture is 2015. So back off."

Harvey threw a 27-pitch bullpen Wednesday and told ESPN Radio in New York that he easily reached the low-to-mid 90s. All physical signs have been positive so far, so Collins understands it's hard for someone as competitive as Harvey to hold back.

The Mets would like him to anyway. The differing views have led to some frustration for the Mets this week.

"Unless I'm standing next to him, I can't control it," Collins said. "It's impossible. This guy will hire somebody to go throw on the side. That's just how he is. I've said, 'You've got to be smart about this. And by the way, stop doing radio shows during the ballgame telling everybody you're throwing 95. That isn't going to help us up here.'

"I just told him, 'You've got to take the big picture of things and you've got to be careful what you're doing and what you're saying, because you have to be here next year.'"

{"content":["injury" ] }
{"content":["injury" ] }
{"content":["replay" ] }

Mets unsuccessful on hit-by-pitch challenge

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NEW YORK -- Mets manager Terry Collins challenged a call Thursday night at Citi Field, contending that a Rafael Soriano slider down-and-in to Lucas Duda hit the first baseman on the foot.

After a review, the ruling on the field -- that the pitch did not hit Duda -- was confirmed.

Duda was at the plate with the Mets down three runs and down to their last out. He grounded out to end the game, a 4-1 Nationals win.

{"content":["replay" ] }

d'Arnaud solidifying Mets' future at catcher

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d'Arnaud solidifying Mets' future at catcher play video for d'Arnaud solidifying Mets' future at catcher

NEW YORK -- As the Mets continue to evaluate their roster with at least one eye looking at 2015, the last two months have seemingly solidified one position that earlier this season was one of the club's most worrisome question marks: catcher.

Travis d'Arnaud's resurgence since his promotion from Triple-A Las Vegas has, in manager Terry Collins' view, been enough to discount the rookie catcher's first three months when it comes time to making production projections moving forward.

"You have to go with what the majority of the season, and over that course of 400 at-bats, I think the numbers are going to dictate that, yeah, he's the real deal," Collins said. "The second half of the season, this guy is going to put up some really, really good numbers. He's gone from hitting eighth and being pinch-hit for to hitting fifth. And we're very comfortable having him hit there."

d'Arnaud's improvements are obvious. He entered play Thursday batting .277 with a .318 on-base percentage and -- most importantly, perhaps -- a .511 slugging mark since returning from Las Vegas in late June, as opposed to producing a .180/.271/.273 slash line before the demotion. Collins said d'Arnaud has been every bit the player the Mets thought they were getting when they acquired him in the R.A. Dickey trade in December 2012.

Collins maintained that the Mets made only a minor tweak to d'Arnaud's offensive approach -- moving him closer to home to allow him to better cover the outer half of the plate -- and the biggest difference is d'Arnaud's confidence.

The next step in his growth as a hitter has to do with his new spot in the lineup.

"If he's going to keep hitting fifth, he has to drive some runs in," Collins said. "Is he going to drive in runs? Not just with home runs, but be good enough hitter to be a doubles and homers guy. If he can be a complete hitter that way, he's going to be a real valuable piece of the team."

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Tejada adjusting to reserve role with Mets

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NEW YORK -- The biggest question surrounding the Mets' middle infielders -- though not necessarily a topic of conversation between them -- got an answer last week when the club named Wilmer Flores the starting the shortstop for the rest of the season after several months of ambiguity. Ruben Tejada was relegated to the bench.

A week later, it's hard to tell how Tejada is adjusting to the more clear-cut reserve role.

"His outward appearance, he's been OK. He works hard, he does his extra hitting, he does his extra fielding," manager Terry Collins said. "Inside, I'm sure he's furious. And he should be, because he was the shortstop here, and now he's got to watch.

"But he has not been an issue as far as the preparation side. Once in a while, you may not like something, but you have to accept some things, and during that process you have to keep yourself ready. He's done that."

For his part, Tejada stuck to the party line regarding his new, lessened role.

"I don't think it's any different," Tejada said. "Just wait for my opportunity to play."

Entering play Thursday, Tejada had gotten into one out of the Mets' last seven games, and there isn't reason to believe he'll see much more time going forward.

Eric Campbell and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, both of whom boast better offensive numbers than Tejada, have been getting most of pinch-hitting chances of late. Eric Young Jr. is the team's designated pinch-runner.

That leaves Tejada as strictly a defensive replacement most days, just as he would have been if the Mets' 3-2 loss Wednesday ended up in extra innings after Young pinch-ran for Flores.

To make the most of it, Tejada aims to stay active in the event he's called into action. That involves a routine of plenty of mid-game stretches, soft toss and offspeed-pitching work in the batting cage.

"It's different, because when you're not playing, you take one pinch-hit that day or something or play defense. It's a little bit harder," Tejada said. "When we start playing, stay ready. You never know what's going to happen."

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