FLUSHING, NY – Jon Niese pitched six innings and his defense helped a bit. However the New York Mets starter, in his fourth outing, threw a season high 113 pitches and walked five which did not help. More so, the Mets offense has become a concern as they were limited to four hits as the Houston Astros took a 6-1 win at Citi Field Tuesday evening.
Coming off a win Sunday in Atlanta, that snapped a seven-game losing streak, New York returned home before a slim crowd in the first of four against Houston, and now have dropped 11 of their last 13 games. Last week the talk was frustration from Mets manager Terry Collins. Now there is the talk about being concerned.
“We’ve got to stop it. I’m very concerned about it,” said Collins regarding the latest loss which matched the third worst start in team history at 5-12. “Late in the game we continue to give up big hits.” He was referring to 3-1 Houston lead that got away in the eighth when the Astros scored three.
Until then, the Mets could not get to Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez. His fourth outing of the young season was his best, seven innings, and after an Angel Pagan double in the second inning he held New York hitless until Carlos Beltran in the seventh inning hit a solo home run. The ball hit to left center-field was his third of the season, all coming at Citi Field, and three of his seven career hits against Rodriguez have been home runs.
The concern is about Bobby Parnell and the Mets bullpen. The pen has pitched the most innings among all teams in baseball in three weeks and Parnell has been ineffective after a strong spring. Parnell balked in a run and allowed a two-run single to Angel Sanchez.
The right hander Parnell revealed later that he has been quietly struggling with feeling in the middle finger of his pitching hand. It is a concern, as Parnell has been slated as the eighth inning guy out of the pen. “It’s a concern of mine,” said Collins who would not comment about Parnell undergoing an MRI on Wednesday before the Mets take on the Astros in the second game of four. “I haven’t seen the real good fastball and I want to know why.”
“I’ve been fighting it and felt I could get through it,” said Parnell afterwards about the discomfort. In eight outings, Parnell has given up nine runs with a 6.14 ERA in 7.1 innings. “I’m having a hard time gripping the baseball and feeling it,” he said. Though Collins would not offer any comments about whether the team would have an MRI done or give the struggling reliever a rest.
Rodriguez (1-2) allowed three hits, on three walks, and struck out a season high seven with an effective curve. David Wright struck out once and went 0-for-4, now hitless in his last 16 at bats and among the top three among strikeout victims in the National League.
“I had excellent location tonight,” said Rodriguez who allowed one run in 7.0 innings in his lone start against the Mets last August. “Everything was good. “I want to stay consistent, throw a lot of quality starts.” He said about the Beltran home run ball, “It was a changeup, more like a batting practice fastball.”
But the Mets may need more batting practice to generate runs because their starting pitching has been keeping them in games until the late innings and the offense has scored six runs in their last four games. The five walks were also a season high for Niese (0-3) as the Mets dropped to 1-7 at home including losing their last six at Citi Field.
“I didn’t feel right,” he said. “I felt a little off.” His defense helped a bit in the third inning, thanks to Wright who dived and tagged Carlos Lee on a close play at third. But Scott Hairston did not help Pedro Beato out of the pen in the seventh. He was charged with an error when he could not catch a Lee ball that was hit deep to left, glancing off his glove. The play resulted in a Houston run.
Pagan is also struggling at the plate. The double was his only hit in four at bats, and he stranded three runners. Another of the four Mets hits was a double by Ike Davis, the 16th in 17 games for the team and fourth in the league.
“He like a lot of these guys is a key part to this club,” commented Collins about Pagan’s struggles at the plate and about many of the Mets hitters possibly being too aggressive with their bats. “We got to get him going,” he said. And that includes Hairston, who went 0-for-2 striking out twice, another player that Collins would like to see revert to the short swing that was seen in the spring.
Said Pagan, “Tonight was a tough night for the whole team. We have to keep battling. It will change, it will change.” There may be some help, at least some optimism as the injured Jason Bay is slated to return Thursday night at Citi Field. Bay went 4-for-4 and with two home runs and four RBI playing for St. Lucie (A) of the Florida State League in a rehab assignment.
“I know with him in the lineup, when healthy, he will do a lot of damage,” added Pagan about Bay who is 5-for 9 in three games down in Florida. But the Mets need more than Bay at this point.
Because Collins is no longer frustrated and now expressing concern as they give the ball to knuckleballer (1-2) R.A. Dickey Wednesday evening in game three of the series against Houston.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]