NEW YORK -- As LaTroy Hawkins fanned Freddie Freeman in the eighth inning of the Mets' 2-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night, it affirmed a belief for Terry Collins.
Collins managed his bullpen in the early part of the season when it was in disarray, ranking toward the bottom of the league; when it featured star closer Bobby Parnell, but not much else; when leads could shrink in the blink of an eye.
There was no "eighth-inning guy" then. When Collins let the righty Hawkins face the lefty Freeman to end the top of the eighth, it was more than just because Hawkins had struck out the first baseman the only two times he's faced him, though that was part of it -- he has faith in his bullpen and his new setup man.
"That's certainly a lot of it," Collins said. "It's nice to know you've got that guy, you can run him out there and you don't have to worry. You worry about your matchups in the seventh."
The Mets' bullpen ranks just 23rd in the Majors with a 4.04 ERA, but since the start of July, its 2.57 bullpen ERA is 10th best in MLB.
Parnell took a loss on Monday, but that was "an enigma for Bobby," as Collins put it.
"They've really been pitching great in the last month," Collins said of the bullpen. "We've made a couple changes down there. Some guys have really stepped up, even in some of those long guys we've gotten two innings out of a lot of guys that we don't normally ask them to do that and they've stepped up and done it."
Gonzalez Germen, who didn't debut until July 12, has a 2.45 ERA in four appearances. David Aardsma didn't join the Mets until their June 9, 20-inning marathon with the Marlins, but he has been perhaps their most consistent reliever aside from Parnell, posting 2.33 ERA in 19 1/3 innings.
"We've got some options right now and that makes you feel pretty good, knowing you can shorten the game down to less than nine innings," Collins said.
Chris Iseman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.