MLB Insiders: New York Mets

The Pirates open a four-game series with the New York Mets on Friday night at PNC Park. Right-hander Charlie Morton will oppose Mets rookie right-hander Dillon Gee.

The New York Mets have been feeling a lot better about their starting pitching lately after a rocky start. They've felt great any time Dillon Gee has taken the hill in 2011.

The Mets haven't lost any of Gee's eight starts and the right-hander has won four straight outings heading into Friday night's series opener in Pittsburgh, where he'll face the Pirates trying to become baseball's first rookie starter to open 7-0 since 2006.

New York's starters were 16-20 with an unimpressive 4.48 ERA through May 25, but lately they've been coming through consistently. Jonathon Niese held Milwaukee to one run over 7 2-3 innings in Thursday's 4-1 win, delivering the team's sixth consecutive quality start as the Mets (30-32) bounced back after blowing a four-run eighth-inning lead in Wednesday's 7-6 loss.

Mets starters are 6-2 with a 2.78 ERA over the past 14 games.

The Mets have every reason to believe their quality start streak will continue Friday. Gee (6-0, 3.33 ERA) has limited opponents to a .161 batting average and posted a 2.28 ERA during his four-start winning streak.

He held the Pirates (30-31) to three runs over seven innings - striking out a career-high eight - in a 7-3 win at Citi Field on May 30, then followed that with seven innings of four-hit ball as he outpitched then-major league ERA leader Jair Jurrjens in a 5-0 victory over Atlanta on Saturday.

Gee's mound opponent should look familiar. Charlie Morton (6-2, 2.52) gave up three runs - one earned - and 11 hits over six innings before leaving without a decision against the rookie last month, though that didn't stop Collins from offering some high praise.

Morton, who leads the majors in ground ball percentage (78.1), got a better result Saturday. The right-hander held Philadelphia to two runs over seven innings of a 6-3 win.

The Mets have treaded carefully around Jason Bay, trying every fix that they can think of in order to help solve the struggles of the slumping slugger. But on Thursday, the Mets gave in and put him on the bench.

With Bay mired in an 0-for-23 slump that has dropped him to a .207 batting average with just two homers and 10 RBI in 39 games, Mets manager Terry Collins took Bay aside and told him he was giving him a head-clearing breather. Already given a day off twice in the last 10 days, this time Bay was sitting for at least two games -- and maybe more.

"It's more up to (Collins)," Bay said. "(We'll) talk about it. It'll definitely be more than a day. Might be more than -- I don't know. I haven't really talked to him."

"It's not etched in stone," Collins said. "We're trying to do all the options we can give it. We just talked about it and I said I'm willing to do whatever we've got to do. I said if you need some time to just work on stuff let's do that. So that's what we're going to do. He also said, 'I only know I'm not going to run away from this. I'm going to play and get through it.' That's what makes him a great player. He is going to get it. I can just see him trying so hard; so, so hard right now. The only way I know to clear your mind is just to take a step back for a couple of days."

In the clubhouse, Bay calmly discussed his troubles, his demeanor showing little of the frustration that has built up inside of him. But it is there.

"It's not enjoyable," Bay said. "At the same time, you're still part of a team, and the team over the last few days has done pretty well. It does no good for me to sit around and pout about it. just because I'm struggling doesn't mean that everyone else has got to deal with that, too. We're playing pretty good baseball. I deal with it in my own way. It is eating at me pretty good, but once again, I don't think it benefits anybody to sit around and pout about it."

Since signing his four-year, $66 million deal with the Mets, Bay has struggled to live up to expectations. Off to a slow start last year with just six home runs through July 25, his season came to a crashing halt when he collided with the fence at Dodger Stadium, suffering a concussion that idled him for the remainder of the year. Set on redemption, he ended spring training with a back injury and then a ribcage injury, starting the season on the disabled list. The troubles of last year seem like a banner year compared to this season. Collins spoke to Bay about players who have struggled early -- Carlos Delgado with the Mets in 2007, David Ortiz as a teammate of Bay's in Boston in 2009 -- and then tore it up in the second half of the season. But no stories filled with happy endings can do what Bay needs to do -- prove it to himself on the field.

"I'm not asking myself to do anything I haven't done," Bay said. "I'm not trying to be like, hey, you're a certain type of player but we need you to be a different type of player. I'm just going out there trying to do what I've always done. That's the frustrating part is that it's not happening. If I couldn't do it'd be a lot easier to deal with, but you know that you've done it."

NOTES, QUOTES

--LHP Jon Niese tied a career-high with eight strikeouts and allowed just three hits in 7 2/3 innings as he beat the Milwaukee Brewers. Niese is 3-1 with a 1.34 ERA in his last five starts, but said that he thought his curveball -- his most dangerous weapon -- was as good as it has been all year.

--SS Jose Reyes saw his 12-game hitting streak come to an end Thursday as he went 0-for-5. Reyes, who hit .462 during the streak, was robbed by his good friend, Carlos Gomez, with a running grab of a fly ball in the gap in the sixth inning.

--LF Jason Bay was put on the bench for at least two games, and possibly more, as Mets manager Terry Collins tries to find a way to shake Bay from his offensive struggles. Bay is hitting just .207 on the season and is 0-for-23 over his last six games.

--RHP Francisco Rodriguez recorded his fourth four-out save of the season. Rodriguez, who has struggled since undergoing oral surgery that caused him to lose 15 pounds, said he felt stronger, but is still 12 pounds below the 206 pounds that he started the season at.

--INF Nick Evans was designated for assignment following Thursday's game. Evans was 0-for-12 with six strikeouts in limited duty. OF Lucas Duda is expected to join the Mets in Pittsburgh Friday after clubbing seven homers in his last 14 games for Class AAA Buffalo.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1.000 -- The Mets were 6-for-6 in stolen bases against the Brewers in their three-game series, including 3-for-3 Thursday. Angel Pagan was caught in a rundown after being nearly picked off in the game, but was awarded second base when Prince Fielder was charged with obstruction.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's not enjoyable. At the same time, you're still part of a team, and the team over the last few days has done pretty well. It does no good for me to sit around and pout about it. just because I'm struggling doesn't mean that everyone else has got to deal with that, too. We're playing pretty good baseball. I deal with it in my own way. It is eating at me pretty good, but once again, I don't think it benefits anybody to sit around and pout about it." -- Jason Bay, on his offensive struggles.

ROSTER REPORT
MEDICAL WATCH:

--RHP Taylor Buchholz (right shoulder fatigue) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 30.

--3B David Wright (stress fracture in lower back) was injured April 19 but tried to play through the pain until the fracture was diagnosed in mid-May. He went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 16. He underwent numerous tests May 18-19 and was shut down from all physical activity. Wright received permission May 26 to begin workouts. He was cleared to begin core exercises. On June 3, even though another X-ray wasn't done, he was told that he needs three more weeks of core exercises only.

--1B Ike Davis (sprained left ankle and bone bruise) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 11. Davis was unable to work out on the field for the second straight day in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on May 26, and further examination showed that the bone bruise isn't healing. He was told to stop all attempts at running and keep the foot in a boot until mid-June. He could hit and play catch but was told not to field grounders or run at all.

--RHP Chris Young (torn capsule in right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list May 8, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on June 3. He had season-ending surgery May 16.

--LHP Johan Santana (left shoulder surgery in September 2010) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22, and he was transferred to the 60-day DL on May 8. He had begun throwing in spring training, and he threw from the top of a mound for the first time May 23. He likely will miss at least the first half of the season.


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