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Byrd's strong spring continues as Mets fall

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets manager Terry Collins has challenged Marlon Byrd to prove he still belongs in the big leagues. So far, Byrd has spent this spring doing precisely that.

The former All-Star continued his hot spring with an RBI single and a sacrifice fly on Monday afternoon, leading the Mets' offensive attack in a 4-2 loss to the Braves. Infielder Chris Johnson gave the Braves the lead in the seventh with a solo homer off lefty Darin Gorski.

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The Mets had little trouble reaching base against Braves starter Tim Hudson, who gave up six hits and a walk over four innings. But Byrd was the only one who could break through for any real damage, driving in Ike Davis with his first-inning single and Matt den Dekker with his third-inning sac fly. Byrd's Grapefruit League average rose to .400 in 15 at-bats.

"I'm not where I want to be from an arm-strength standpoint," Hudson said. "But you've got to give credit to those guys. They put together some pretty good at-bats."

In his continued pitch to make the roster as a swingman, Mets starter Jeremy Hefner gave up nothing more than Justin Upton's solo homer in three innings, striking out two. Hefner could break camp in the rotation if Johan Santana is not ready to go by Opening Day.

Johnson, who is battling Juan Francisco for the right to replace Chipper Jones as Atlanta's starting third baseman, finished 3-for-3 with his second homer of the spring. He is now batting .421 in 19 spring at-bats.

Prospect Rafael Montero, who impressed as a starter in his Grapefruit League debut last week, gave the Mets two innings of one-run ball in relief. For the Braves, Luis Avilan and David Carpenter struck out two batters apiece over perfect innings in the fifth and sixth, respectively.

This spring is a thinly veiled audition for Byrd, who posted a .448 OPS in 153 plate appearances last season and served a 50-game suspension for drug use. If he shows he can still resemble the hitter who amassed 40 home runs with an .820 OPS from 2007-09, Byrd could break camp as New York's starting right fielder.

"He's done a great job," Collins said. "One of the things I think we're excited to see is his steadiness in the clubhouse, him being a veteran guy. I like a lot of the things I see."

Up next: The Mets technically have an off-day on Tuesday, but several regulars will head to Jupiter, Fla., for a "B" game against the Marlins. Right-hander Shaun Marcum is scheduled to make his first spring appearance in that game after opting to take it slow with a long-tossing program in February. The Mets will regroup as a team the following day, when they take on Team Venezuela in an exhibition at Tradition Field.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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