CINCINNATI -- Aiming to ease the strain on several of their starting pitchers, the Mets plan to tackle at least the next few weeks of the season with a six-man rotation.
Jeremy Hefner will join the rotation Sunday in Washington to make the new alignment possible. But there's a catch: knuckleballer R.A. Dickey will not be affected by the change, continuing to start every fifth game while the rest of the rotation slots around him.
"We think this is really going to give us the best chance to compete at the level we want to compete," manager Terry Collins said. "We're going to play some teams that are going to be playing for something very, very special, so we want to make sure we're running the best guys out there."
For weeks, Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen searched for a way to give Johan Santana and Chris Young extra rest in their first seasons back from major shoulder surgeries -- in Collins' words, "to make sure they stay healthy throughout the remainder of the season." Collins and Warthen also wanted to find extra rest for Jon Niese, who has endured injuries or inconsistencies in each of the last three Septembers.
But the Mets did not want to alter the schedule of Dickey, who seems to thrive on regular rest -- and who could be gunning for some weighty individual accolades down the stretch.
"We just want to keep him on the same pattern," Collins said.
The new rotation will also allow the Mets to dilute the workload of rookie Matt Harvey, who only has about 30-40 innings remaining before he reaches his team-imposed cap. Pitching every sixth -- and sometimes every seventh -- game should allow Harvey to finish out the season despite his innings limit.
"I'm a competitive guy, so I don't want to get shut down at any point," Harvey said. "But ... the six-man rotation, I have no say in any of that. When they tell me to throw, I'll throw. When they tell me not to, that's a time to rest."
As the new rotation shakes out, Harvey will start Thursday against the Reds as previously scheduled. Santana, Niese and Hefner will start this weekend's series in Washington, before Dickey comes back on regular rest to open next week's homestand Monday against the Rockies.