DAM­AGE CON­TROL

Turn­around must start now to save sea­son

New York Post - - SPORTS - By MIKE PUMA mpuma@ny­post.com

As the Mets pre­pared to de­part Ari­zona fol­low­ing their win­less road trip, Lu­cas Duda, slouched on a couch in the vis­i­tors’ club­house at Chase Field, re­ceived a tap on the knee from Terry Collins.

“Head up,” the man­ager told his slump­ing first base­man.

It is a mes­sage Collins will con­tinue to preach, but are the Mets lis­ten­ing? And how much does it mat­ter at this point?

In a free fall amid seven straight losses, the Mets (16-23) are on the verge of see­ing their sea­son dec­i­mated in May. They will be­gin a six-game home­s­tand against the An­gels on Fri­day need­ing one thing: a vic­tory — in any shape, size or form.

Team of­fi­cials are cling­ing to two sources of hope for a turn­around within the next few weeks.

Fore­most on that list is the ex­pected re­turn next week of Yoe­nis Ce­s­pedes from a strained left ham­string, with fur­ther help po­ten­tially not far be­hind in Steven Matz and Seth Lugo, who would bol­ster a hurt­ing ro­ta­tion.

Se­condly, the Mets won’t face stiff com­pe­ti­tion un­til the mid­dle of June. Un­til then, they get the An­gels, Padres, Pi­rates, Brew­ers, Rangers and Braves on the sched­ule be­fore a hel­la­cious stretch against the re­spec­tive di­vi­sion fa­vorites (Cubs, Na­tion­als and Dodgers). By then, the Mets hope to have the man­power needed to com­pete against top-tier com­pe­ti­tion.

“Plenty of base­ball left,” Jose Reyes said. “Last year, ev­ery­body counted us out, too, and we fought back.”

The turn­around that be­gan last Au­gust, when the Mets were two games be­low .500, and cul­mi­nated in a Na­tional League wild­card berth co­in­cided with play­ers such as Ce­s­pedes and As­drubal Cabr­era re­turn­ing to health while Lugo and Robert Gsell­man emerged to for­tify the ro­ta­tion.

This task is maybe more daunt­ing, with Noah Syn­der­gaard and Jeurys Fa­milia side­lined long-term — even af­ter play­ers such as Ce­s­pedes, Cabr­era, Matz, Lugo and Travis d’Ar­naud re­turn in the com­ing weeks.

Matz, Lugo and d’Ar­naud all made their first re­hab ap­pear­ances on Thurs­day night for Sin­gle-A St. Lu­cie. Matz went three in­nings, throw­ing 43 pitches and al­low­ing two hits and a run with two walks and three strike­outs. Lugo went 3 ²/₃ score­less in­nings, throw­ing 42 pitches and al­low­ing two hits and hit­ting a bat­ter. D’Ar­naud spent seven in­nings be­hind the plate and went 2-for-4 with two sin­gles.

In ad­di­tion to the in­juries, Matt Har­vey and Gsell­man have un­der­per­formed, con­tribut­ing to the team’s 5.13 ERA that ranks last in the ma­jor leagues.

Even the team’s ace, Ja­cob deGrom, has scuf­fled. The right-han­der, who is sched­uled to face the An­gels at Citi Field on Fri­day, has pitched to a 4.07 ERA while strug­gling — like the rest of his ro­ta­tion mates — to work deep into games. DeGrom’s lat­est blip oc­curred Sun­day in Mil­wau­kee, when he couldn’t sur­vive the sixth in­ning, sur­ren­der­ing a two-run homer that be­gan the Mets’ epic melt­down — the Brew­ers scored 10 runs in the fi­nal three in­nings — in an 11-9 loss.

The bullpen’s frag­ile state was on dis­play three times in four games, in which Ad­di­son Reed, Hansel Robles and Rafael Mon­tero all sur­ren­dered go-ahead homers in the eighth in­ning or later. Lefty Jerry Blevins re­mains among the busiest bod­ies in base­ball, on pace to ap­pear in 100 games.

Un­til Ce­s­pedes re­turns, Collins is ex­pected to con­tinue with un­der­per­form­ing Cur­tis Gran­der­son in cen­ter field, but the man­ager has broader op­tions at first base, where he could play T.J. Rivera or Wilmer Flores if Duda — who has been nearly in­vis­i­ble since re­turn­ing last week­end from the dis­abled list — doesn’t soon emerge.

Even with­out Ce­s­pedes, the Mets en­tered Thurs­day sec­ond in the ma­jor leagues in scor­ing for May. It is a lineup that re­cently has been car­ried by Michael Con­forto, Neil Walker and Rene Rivera. But the im­por­tance of a bat such as Ce­s­pedes’ was un­der­scored in the Ari­zona se­ries, in which the Mets lost two straight 5-4 games: One key hit in each game would have swung the en­tire se­ries.

“A good break or two and you get a win or two,” a team of­fi­cial said. “But that isn’t an ex­cuse. We de­served to lose ev­ery game.”

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