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Harvey scuffles in Atlanta, putting role in doubt

Braves pounce on righty for 6 runs; Frazier, A-Gon homer for Mets
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

ATLANTA -- The downturn in Matt Harvey's fortunes has come at an awkward time for him and the Mets. An unquestioned member of the team's rotation heading into the season, Harvey has since started four games, struggled thrice and, on Thursday, pitched poorly enough at SunTrust Park that the Braves effectively iced their 12-4 win before sunset.

Over his last three starts, Harvey is 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA, and he is running out of time to improve. Due back from the disabled list as soon as April 27, Jason Vargas will claim someone's rotation spot when healthy.

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ATLANTA -- The downturn in Matt Harvey's fortunes has come at an awkward time for him and the Mets. An unquestioned member of the team's rotation heading into the season, Harvey has since started four games, struggled thrice and, on Thursday, pitched poorly enough at SunTrust Park that the Braves effectively iced their 12-4 win before sunset.

Over his last three starts, Harvey is 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA, and he is running out of time to improve. Due back from the disabled list as soon as April 27, Jason Vargas will claim someone's rotation spot when healthy.

View Full Game Coverage

Given Harvey's recent string of performances -- 10 extra-base hits in his last 16 innings, among other indignities -- it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Mets to justify keeping him in his current role. All but acknowledging that much late Thursday, manager Mickey Callaway declined to commit to another start for Harvey. That did not sit well with the one-time ace, who bristled at the notion that he could be headed to the bullpen or the Minors.

"I'm a starting pitcher," Harvey said. "I've always been a starting pitcher. I think I showed that in the fifth, sixth inning, I can get people out."

Video: NYM@ATL: Cabrera makes a sliding stop to nab Tucker

Harvey indeed demonstrated marked improvement in the middle innings Thursday, retiring 11 of the final 12 batters he faced. But as pitching coach Dave Eiland noted, "The game starts in the first inning, not the fourth. ... You've got to be ready from the first pitch."

Instead, the Braves greeted Harvey with a flourish of hits: Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies led off the bottom of the first with singles, Freddie Freeman lifted a sacrifice fly and Kurt Suzuki bashed a two-run homer. Harvey allowed three more in the third inning on a Nick Markakis RBI single and a Preston Tucker two-run double. Although he recovered to retire 11 of the final 12 batters he faced, Harvey was, by that point, well on his way to his second consecutive loss.

Video: NYM@ATL: Harvey gets Inciarte looking

"I think there's a lot still to prove," Harvey said. "But I believe that I took a step in the right direction, and I'm ready to get out of the hole and show what I can do."

New York's only offense against Matt Wisler, whom the Braves recalled from the Minors earlier in the day, came in the form of a Todd Frazier homer to lead off the fifth. Adrian Gonzalez also homered for the Mets, who rallied late, but not before Jerry Blevins and Gerson Bautista served up four runs of insurance to Tucker and the Braves in the seventh.

Video: NYM@ATL: Gonzalez smashes a solo homer to left center

None of the late offense made much impact on a game that left the Mets mostly just concerned about what to do with Harvey. With Vargas set to begin a Minor League rehab assignment this weekend, only one more rotation turn stands between him and a return. And with a team off day Monday, the Mets have the ability to skip Harvey's next start if they desire. The team could also temporarily shift to a six-man rotation, but Callaway has expressed more of an inclination to move someone to the bullpen, or even Triple-A.

Video: Discussing rumors surrounding Matt Harvey

When asked if he would accept a Minor League assignment, Harvey, whose five-plus years of big league service time give him the right to refuse one, replied: "I can't answer that question right now."

It is a conversation the Mets may force him to have in the coming days.

Video: NYM@ATL: Callaway on Harvey's pitching in 12-4 loss

"We're going to make decisions that we feel are going to help this team win baseball games," Eiland said. "Period."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Frazier, at least, continued to be a bright spot for a Mets team that has dropped three of four. His fifth-inning homer left his bat at 109.3 mph, giving him at least one hit in eight of his last nine games. Frazier has reached base multiple times in nine of his last 12.

Video: NYM@ATL: Frazier skies a solo home run to center

HE SAID IT
"I know the results aren't there. I feel bad that I couldn't have figured that out earlier, and done better to keep the damage limited. But that was huge for me, those last three innings. I give Mickey a lot of credit for letting me go back out there. ... I've dug myself in a hole for the last four starts, and I really feel like the last three innings were a big step out of that hole." -- Harvey

UP NEXT
The Mets will look to build some momentum Friday behind Noah Syndergaard, who has been effective but inefficient in four starts this season. The Mets' Opening Day starter has 33 strikeouts and five walks in 21 1/3 innings, but has yet to throw a pitch in the seventh inning of any game. He'll oppose left-hander Sean Newcomb in a 7:35 p.m. ET game at SunTrust Park.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Harvey

Mets sign Worley, Copeland for pitching depth

Right-handers added on Minor League deals; Griffin released
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

ATLANTA -- The Mets fleshed out their organizational depth with a pair of former big league starters this week, inking Vance Worley and Scott Copeland to Minor League contracts. The team also released another former big leaguer, A.J. Griffin.

Both Worley and Copeland will report to extended spring workouts in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

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ATLANTA -- The Mets fleshed out their organizational depth with a pair of former big league starters this week, inking Vance Worley and Scott Copeland to Minor League contracts. The team also released another former big leaguer, A.J. Griffin.

Both Worley and Copeland will report to extended spring workouts in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

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The team is plenty familiar with Worley, 30, a third-round Draft pick of the Phillies who spent time in Philadelphia's rotation from 2010-12, and in Miami's last season. In between, Worley appeared for the Twins, Pirates and Orioles. He has a 35-36 record with a 4.09 ERA in eight seasons. The right-hander was in Spring Training with the Reds but was released after posting a 6.17 ERA in seven relief appareances. He had a 6.91 ERA in 12 starts and 12 relief appearances for the Marlins in 2017.

Copeland, 30, has not appeared in the Majors since 2015 with the Blue Jays. He spent the entirety of last season at the Marlins' Triple-A New Orleans affiliate, going 9-11 with a 4.97 ERA in 26 starts.

Those two should more than fill the gap left by Griffin, whom the Mets released after he allowed 16 runs in three innings at Triple-A Las Vegas. The Mets had signed Griffin in February to provide a measure of upper-level rotation depth, but his struggles eliminated him as a realistic option to contribute this season.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Scott Copeland, Vance Worley

NL East: Checking in on the new guys

MLB.com @ToddZolecki

ATLANTA -- New blood can change the feel and dynamic of a team, both on the field and in the clubhouse.

There are plenty of new faces in the National League East. Some of them have had a major impact on their team's success the first three weeks of the season. Others have not. Here is a look at some of the most notable newcomers in the NL East entering Thursday:

ATLANTA -- New blood can change the feel and dynamic of a team, both on the field and in the clubhouse.

There are plenty of new faces in the National League East. Some of them have had a major impact on their team's success the first three weeks of the season. Others have not. Here is a look at some of the most notable newcomers in the NL East entering Thursday:

Braves
Who's the new guy?
Outfielder Preston Tucker

How's it going so far? Tucker has been taking advantage of his opportunities in left field as top prospect Ronald Acuna plays in Triple-A. Tucker entered Thursday with 13 hits, including two doubles and three home runs, in 53 plate appearances. He has posted an .821 OPS as Atlanta's lineup scored runs in bunches early.

Video: ATL@CHC: Tucker belts a three-run home run to right

What's on deck? Many people expected Acuna to join the team this week, but he has struggled early. He could remain with Gwinnett until he shows consistent results. In the meantime, Tucker will continue to play. After that, he is expected to strengthen the Braves' bench.

Number to know: 92.6. Tucker's average exit velocity of balls in play ranks 23rd out of 204 batters (minimum 30 balls in play).

Marlins
Who's the new guy?
Outfielder Lewis Brinson

How's it going so far? Brinson joined the organization in the offseason as a key piece in the Christian Yelich deal with Milwaukee. He hit .280 (7-for-25) through Miami's first five games, but he is just 1-for-36 in 11 games since. Marlins manager Don Mattingly gave him a break this week in New York to work on his swing in the batting cage.

What's on deck? Brinson eventually will have to show some improvement at the plate or he could be optioned to Triple-A, where there will be less pressure to perform and more opportunities to work on his adjustments. But Brinson is Miami'sNo. 1 prospect for a reason. The Marlins believe he will get rolling at some point.

Number to know: 15 -- the number of Brinson's strikeouts in 36 at-bats during the 11-game skid.

Mets
Who's the new guy?
Third baseman Todd Frazier

How's it going so far? Frazier signed a two-year, $17 million contract just a few days before Spring Training. The early returns have been phenomenal, posting a .929 OPS in 73 plate appearances. Frazier not only has been a force in the Mets' lineup, but he has been solid defensively at third base and aggressive on the basepaths. Frazier has emerged as a clubhouse leader, too. He even invented the "salt and pepper shaker" celebration. Bonus points for that? Sure, why not?

Video: Must C Clutch: Mets' trio lead dramatic comeback

What's on deck? It will be interesting to see if Frazier can maintain this pace offensively. He averaged a .774 OPS the previous five seasons, following a career-best .829 OPS with the Reds in 2012. If Frazier replicates his '12 success or even exceeds it, the Mets will have one of the best bargains of the offseason.

Number to know: 15. Frazier entered the year with 819 strikeouts and 336 walks in his career. He entered Thursday with 15 walks and 17 strikeouts.

Nationals
Who's the new guy?
Manager Dave Martinez

How's it going so far? Martinez has not been in the spotlight much these first couple weeks, which generally is a good thing for a rookie manager. He has, however, drawn endorsements from his players, which is a good thing. "We have a manager in there who believes in us," Bryce Harper said earlier this week.

What's on deck? The Nationals have started slowly, and it is Martinez's job to get them going, injuries or not. Rightly so, Martinez has not panicked and has remained upbeat, trusting that a veteran team familiar with winning knows how to navigate itself through a rough patch.

Number to know: 3.38. Washington's starters rank eighth in the Majors with a 3.38 ERA. If that number holds, the Nats should start winning some games in the near future.

Phillies
Who's the new guy?
Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta

How's it going so far? Arrieta will make his third start of the season Thursday against the Pirates. His first two starts have gone well. Since Arrieta allowed two earned runs in his first inning in his first start April 8 against the Marlins, he has 1.86 ERA in 9 2/3 innings. He has allowed seven hits, two earned runs and one walk in that stretch. Arrieta has struck out six.

Video: PHI@TB: Arrieta tosses 6 2/3 frames, gets first win

What's on deck? One of the reasons Arrieta did not sign until March 12 is that teams had concerns about a dip in performance since he won the NL Cy Young Award in 2015. A few more solid starts in the coming weeks should make the Phillies feel more comfortable about his three-year, $75 million contract.

Number to know: 91.8. Arrieta's fastball velocity has been a focus the past few seasons. It is averaging 91.8 mph through two starts, which is a slight decline from last season (92.2 mph).

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, Jake Arrieta, Lewis Brinson, Todd Frazier, Preston Tucker

Yo's slam caps Mets' 9-run 8th, comeback win

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- Juan Lagares dropped to a knee at second base, smacking his gloved hands together half a dozen times. Across the diamond, Asdrubal Cabrera waited in foul ground after half-jogging, half-leaping home. A grin broke across Todd Frazier's face as he neared Cabrera, slapping his teammate's hand with force.

Lagares' two-run double had just given the Mets their first lead in an 11-5 win over the Nationals at Citi Field, highlighting a 12-batter, nine-run, eighth-inning rally that diverted them from a three-game series sweep. About an hour later, as they packed and dressed for an early-morning flight to Georgia, reminiscing on Lagares' hit and Yoenis Cespedes' grand slam, some Mets tried to temper the importance of a single game in April. But there was no disguising it.

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NEW YORK -- Juan Lagares dropped to a knee at second base, smacking his gloved hands together half a dozen times. Across the diamond, Asdrubal Cabrera waited in foul ground after half-jogging, half-leaping home. A grin broke across Todd Frazier's face as he neared Cabrera, slapping his teammate's hand with force.

Lagares' two-run double had just given the Mets their first lead in an 11-5 win over the Nationals at Citi Field, highlighting a 12-batter, nine-run, eighth-inning rally that diverted them from a three-game series sweep. About an hour later, as they packed and dressed for an early-morning flight to Georgia, reminiscing on Lagares' hit and Yoenis Cespedes' grand slam, some Mets tried to temper the importance of a single game in April. But there was no disguising it.

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"It's just huge for us to avoid the sweep and fly down to Atlanta happy," outfielder Michael Conforto said.

Grand slams mean 40% off pizza

It was Conforto who ignited the winning rally, singling off Ryan Madson with the Mets trailing by two. Cespedes followed with another knock. Then Cabrera singled and, in Conforto's words, "you could kind of feel the energy building." Two batters later, Frazier collected his sixth hit in 17 tries with runners in scoring position, tying the game at 4.

An intentional walk and a strikeout loaded the bases for Lagares, who ripped a two-run, go-ahead double just inside the right-field foul line, giving the Mets their first lead of the night.

Video: Must C Clutch: Mets trio lead dramatic comeback

"I was ready for that the whole at-bat," Lagares said. "I got a good pitch, and I made a good swing."

Cespedes' slam wound up icing a night that could have turned out much differently for the Mets. Entering the week with a 12-2 record and a six-game National League East lead over the defending division champions, the Mets lost gut-punch games Monday and Tuesday. They arrived at Citi Field the following afternoon aching to salvage something; although manager Mickey Callaway insisted this was no different than any other game, criticisms were raining down from all corners of the media landscape. Callaway himself dropped the first hints of urgency, removing starting pitcher Steven Matz for pinch-hitter Brandon Nimmo after four innings and 74 pitches.

Video: WSH@NYM: Matz K's Turner for third straight strikeout

The move wasn't universally well-received. Matz, who had retired 10 straight after Ryan Zimmerman's three-run homer in the first inning, slammed his bat to the ground in the dugout. Then he watched as Amed Rosario hit into an inning-ending double play with the Mets trailing by a run. Had Paul Sewald not given the Mets three innings of one-run relief, their eighth-inning opportunity might never have arisen. New York might have dropped three straight to an archrival oozing with confidence. The criticisms would have continued to fall like rain.

But Sewald did his part and Frazier, Lagares and Cespedes did the rest, sending the Mets to a 13-4 record for just the third time in franchise history.

"We just went out and took it," Callaway said. "We went there and the players in that clubhouse took that game. They were wanting to win, and they did everything they could."

Video: WSH@NYM: Callaway on 11-5 win, avoiding sweep

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Had Matz's pitch count been in the 50s or 60s when his spot in the order came up in the fourth, Callaway said, he never would have considered removing his pitcher from the game. But with Matz at 74 pitches, the manager called him back from the on-deck circle, sending out Nimmo instead. Although Nimmo reached first on a hit-by-pitch, Rosario followed with the inning-ending double play.

"I definitely understand," Matz said of Callaway's decision. "I think Mickey would understand that I wouldn't be happy. As a competitor, you want to go out there and go as deep in the game as you can. … Thankfully, the bats came alive and we were able to get the win."

Video: WSH@NYM: Matz displeased with being removed from game

SOUND SMART
From the sixth inning of the Mets' April 1 loss to the Cardinals to the sixth inning Wednesday, Sewald retired 18 consecutive batters. He appeared in just two games in between, retiring the only batter he faced in an April 10 win over the Marlins, then all nine men he saw in Saturday's loss to the Brewers. Wednesday, Sewald set down six in a row before Zimmerman led off the seventh with a triple.

"I'm throwing strikes most importantly," Sewald said. "I can't eat innings if I'm out there throwing 25 pitches an inning. Most important is to get weak contact as early as we can."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
A notorious low-ball hitter, Cespedes elevated his bat plane in the eighth inning to take A.J. Cole deep for his sixth career grand slam. Cole's 95-mph fastball crossed home plate 3.82 feet above the ground, well out of the strike zone. It was the highest pitch Cespedes has hit out since joining the Mets in 2015, and the highest pitch anyone in the Majors has redirected over the fence this season.

Asked if his pair of hits might ignite a hot streak, Cespedes, who was in a 7-for-46 (.152) slump entering the eighth inning, cut off an interpreter's attempt to translate the question.

"I really hope so," Cespedes said in Spanish.

Video: WAS@NYM: Cespedes hits 3.82-ft high pitch for a slam

HE SAID IT
"I put it away and we end up winning. So I'm going to sell it if anybody's interested. I bought it for 95 bucks. I'll go half price for anybody if they're interested." -- Frazier, on the pepper shaker he purchased to give to the Mets' player of the game after wins. When Frazier noticed it still sitting in Wilmer Flores' locker Wednesday afternoon following two straight losses, he moved it out of the main clubhouse room, calling it "bad luck."

Video: WSH@NYM: Frazier ties game with clutch two-run single

UP NEXT
Allowing four runs in five innings in each of his last two starts, Matt Harvey looks to improve -- and to solidify his rotation status with teammate Jason Vargas nearing a return from the disabled list -- when he starts the Mets' 7:35 p.m. ET series opener Thursday at SunTrust Park. Originally scheduled Braves starter Anibal Sanchez was placed on the disabled list Wednesday with a leg injury; Atlanta hasn't announced a new starter.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets

Discomfort slowing Swarzak's rehab timeline

Reliever recovering from strained left oblique slower than expected
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- Lingering oblique discomfort has prompted Mets reliever Anthony Swarzak to pause his throwing program, also putting a trip to Florida on hold.

Swarzak threw off flat ground as recently as Monday at Citi Field, but he and Mets trainers decided to halt his throwing program at that time. He had been scheduled to fly to Florida late this week to ramp up his rehab from a strained left oblique, but the team shelved that plan, as well.

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NEW YORK -- Lingering oblique discomfort has prompted Mets reliever Anthony Swarzak to pause his throwing program, also putting a trip to Florida on hold.

Swarzak threw off flat ground as recently as Monday at Citi Field, but he and Mets trainers decided to halt his throwing program at that time. He had been scheduled to fly to Florida late this week to ramp up his rehab from a strained left oblique, but the team shelved that plan, as well.

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"I still feel optimistic," said Swarzak, who injured himself in a March 31 game against the Cardinals. "I still want it to be a short amount of time. It just isn't going to be as short as I would like it. My body will tell me when I'm ready, and right now I'm not ready."

Both Swarzak and manager Mickey Callaway painted the issue as a precautionary measure due to the way his oblique responded to throwing, rather than as a setback.

"I think they just decided that it would be better for him to continue to get treatment than kind of going ahead and throwing," manager Mickey Callaway said. "He's going to stay here for a few more days, then figure out exactly when he's going to down to Florida and start really getting after it."

Video: STL@NYM: Swarzak works out of a jam in the 7th

A key member of the Mets' Opening Day bullpen, Swarzak allowed one run in two outings before hitting the disabled list. At the time of his injury, he said he hoped to pitch as soon as the next day. But a subsequent MRI revealed the strain, and Swarzak has since recovered slower than he hoped. At this point, he is almost certain to miss at least a month, though Swarzak said he is "steadily progressing," and he hopes to fly to Florida soon.

"You just never know," Callaway said. "Obviously you don't know how people are going to heal, et cetera. You kind of go day by day, and see if he's improving."

Swarzak signed a two-year, $14 million deal with the Mets in December, capping a career year that saw him post a 2.33 ERA in 70 appearances for the White Sox and Brewers.

See you next year
As expected, catcher Travis d'Arnaud underwent Tommy John surgery Tuesday in New York. He will miss the entire 2018 season, and said he is unsure if his rehab will leak into Spring Training. Catchers typically require 10 to 12 months to complete their rehab from that operation, compared to 12 to 18 months for pitchers.

Rotation crunch
Among the starting pitching solutions the Mets are considering when Jason Vargas returns from the DL is a six-man rotation, which the team has employed sporadically in recent years. With Zack Wheeler pitching well, there is no obvious candidate to leave the rotation when Vargas returns as soon as April 27.

"I think it's one of the many decisions we have to make when we're looking at it," Callaway said. "It's something we'll keep in mind, for sure."

Video: HOU@NYM: Vargas rings up Dawson for his fifth K

The Mets have been hesitant to divulge their rotation plans, knowing much can happen in the coming days to change them. Already, Vargas has missed more time than the Mets anticipated when he broke a bone in his glove hand in late March. The left-hander will make a Minor League rehab start on Sunday, fielding his position for the first time since the injury. If all goes well, Vargas could return five days later.

Should the Mets opt against a six-man rotation at that time, Callaway said, the decision may hinge upon whom the Mets feel is best equipped to succeed in the bullpen. When pressed about his ideas on the subject, Callaway demurred.

"I have lots of ideas," he said with a grin.

Shake it off
Earlier this homestand, Mets third baseman Todd Frazier revealed a gift for the team: a wooden pepper grinder that he intended to paint and give to the star of each victory, much as the Mets did with a crown and robe in previous seasons. On Sunday, Wilmer Flores earned the inaugural grinder, an extension of the team's on-field "salt and pepper" celebration.

But when Frazier spotted the grinder still sitting in Flores' locker Wednesday following two consecutive losses, he decided it may not be worth the karma. Frazier grabbed it and removed it from the main clubhouse room.

"I've been meaning to do that," he said. "It's bad luck."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Travis d'Arnaud, Anthony Swarzak, Jason Vargas

Peterson, Brodey among prospect performers

MLB.com @wboor

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Wednesday.

When things are going well offensively, more at-bats are certainly welcomed. That being the case, Wednesday's doubleheader came at a good time for Nick Gordon and LaMonte Wade as the duo helped lead Double-A Chattanooga to a pair of wins over Jacksonville.

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Wednesday.

When things are going well offensively, more at-bats are certainly welcomed. That being the case, Wednesday's doubleheader came at a good time for Nick Gordon and LaMonte Wade as the duo helped lead Double-A Chattanooga to a pair of wins over Jacksonville.

Gordon (No. 81 overall, Twins' No. 4) and Wade (Twins' No. 13) combined to go 7-for-12 (.583) with two homers and four RBIs over the two games.

Gordon, who went 2-for-4 and 2-for-3, has been swinging a particuarily hot bat lately. The 22-year-old is in the midst of a five-game hitting streak and has two or more hits in five of his past seven games. Gordon also has a homer in two of his past three contests, including Game 2 of the doubleheader.

Wade, who went deep in Game 1 and finished 2-for-3 and 1-for-2, is hitting .300 through 12 games this season and has multiple hits in three of his past five games.

Other top prospect performances from Wednesday's action:

• No. 3 overall prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays' No. 1) bounced back from Tuesday's 0-for-5 effort with a 2-for-2 day at the plate. Guerrero singled in the first inning, drove in a run via a sacrifice fly in the third, was hit by a pitch in the sixth and capped his day with a double in the seventh.

Video: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. named No. 3 prospect

• No. 33 overall prospect Alex Verdugo (Dodgers' No. 2) is on an absolute tear with Triple-A Oklahoma City. After going 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs against Round Rock, the 21-year-old outfielder is hitting .643 (9-for-14) with three homers and nine RBIs over his past five games.

• No. 57 overall prospect Jesus Sanchez (Rays' No. 4) put together his fourth straight multi-hit game and extended his hitting streak to six for Class A Advanced Charlotte. Sanchez, who is batting .370 through 12 games, went 4-for-5 with a homer -- his third in the past four games.

• No. 97 overall prospect Austin Riley (Braves' No. 8) pushed his average to .370 with his third straight multi-hit performance. Riley went 3-for-4 with a pair of triples and has nine extra-base hits in 13 games for Double-A Mississippi.

Video: Top Prospects: Austin Riley, 3B, Braves

• No. 99 overall prospect Blake Rutherford (White Sox No. 7) and Micker Adolfo (White Sox No. 10) combined for six hits as Class A Advanced Winston-Salem cruised past Down East. Rutherford, who has hits in five straight, went 3-for-5 with three doubles, while Adolfo went 3-for-6 with two RBIs.

Dodgers' No. 15 prospect Connor Wong hit his sixth homer of the season and turned in another two-hit game for Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga. Wong, who finished 2-for-4, has multiple hits in four of his past five games and has raised his average from .250 to .364 in that span.

Giants' No. 29 prospect Jordan Johnson extended his scoreless streak to 13 innings as he cruised through seven frames for Double-A Richmond. The right-hander, who picked up his second win of the season, threw 53 of his 76 pitches for strikes, gave up six hits and struck out five. Johnson also didn't issue a walk and has walked just one batter over his past two starts after giving out five free passes in his first outing.

• Mets prospects David Peterson (No. 2) and Quinn Brodey (No. 28) -- both members of the 2017 Draft class -- led Class A Columbia to a win over Greenville. Peterson, making his season debut, gave up one run on four hits over six innings, while Brodey extended his hitting streak to seven games with his first career two-homer effort. Brodey, who hit three homers in 63 games last season, went deep in both the eighth and ninth innings, finishing 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

Video: Top Prospects: David Peterson, LHP, Mets

• Rangers prospects Pedro Gonzalez (No. 10) and Anderson Tejeda (No. 12) each homered as part of multi-hit efforts for Class A Hickory and Class A Advanced Down East, respectively. Gonzalez hit his second homer of the season, a two-run blast, in the fifth to highlight a 2-for-3, two-RBI day. Tejeda, who also went 2-for-3, hit a three-run homer off of Dylan Cease (No. 61 overall, White Sox No. 5).

• Rays No. 28 prospect Resly Linares was nearly perfect in his second start for Class A Bowling Green. The 20-year-old lefty gave up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings in his first outing of the season, but this time around he threw 52 of his 85 pitches for strikes, struck out seven and allowed just two baserunners -- via a hit batter and an error -- over seven scoreless frames.

• Yankees prospects Thairo Estrada (No. 10) and Trevor Stephan (No. 15) did their part as Class A Advanced Tampa routed Daytona, 12-0. Estrada, who was making his season debut after recovering from a gunshot wound sustained in the offseason, wasted no time getting back into the swing of things. The 22-year-old doubled in his first at-bat on his way to a 3-for-5 game. Stephan strung together six zeros for the second straight start, lowering his ERA to 1.13. The right-hander walked two, gave up a pair of hits and struck out eight, bringing his season total to 22 punchouts through 16 innings.

William Boor is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor.

Q&A: Bruce talks return to NY, bond with Dusty

MLB.com @ladsonbill24

In a recent sit-down with MLB.com at Citi Field, Mets outfielder Jay Bruce answered 20 questions on subjects ranging from new Mets manager Mickey Callaway to the club's fast start.

MLB.com: How good is it to be back in New York?

In a recent sit-down with MLB.com at Citi Field, Mets outfielder Jay Bruce answered 20 questions on subjects ranging from new Mets manager Mickey Callaway to the club's fast start.

MLB.com: How good is it to be back in New York?

Jay Bruce: It's great to be back. No. 1, I love the city. I had a great time on the team when I was here. The only negative about the whole thing [last year] was not winning. And I think we have the ability to win this year, so I'm excited about that.

MLB.com: How surprised are you by the team's fast start?

Bruce: I'm not surprised. You never expect to win nine in a row. But I feel we have a very good, talented, deep team. So winning doesn't surprise me by any means.

MLB.com: What's the difference between the Mets now and your first tenure in New York?

Bruce: I think we added some pieces in Adrian Gonzalez, Todd Frazier. I think we are healthy.

MLB.com: When you first came to New York, you acknowledged it took time to adjust.

Bruce: I never admitted anything. [The media] made a big deal about me adjusting to the city, but that was all just other people creating a narrative that I completely disagreed with the whole time. I was bad at baseball for a month. It was a situation where I just had to continue to play. That's how the game goes.

MLB.com: What adjustments did you make to play well on the field?

Bruce: I kept working. Last year definitely was along the lines of what I've been doing over my career. People go through rough patches. It was one of those situations where I had to keep playing and keep working and preparing -- just making myself available to have success, which is continue to work and be ready.

MLB.com: Who do you credit for your success last year?

Bruce: Not to sound selfish, but I credit myself for it mostly. But when I got over here, I think Kevin Long and Pat Roessler were a big part of me figuring out what I needed to do to become a better player overall, even when I came here from Cincinnati.

MLB.com: I think you are a better player now. I say that because you are hitting to the opposite field. I think you are striking out less often.

Bruce: That had a lot to do with trying to evolve as a player. When I got here -- when Kevin Long was here and [Roessler], our hitting coach now -- they helped me with some little things that I believe have carried over and allowed me to have more success.

MLB.com: What are the little things you are talking about?

Bruce: Just different drills and thought processes -- drills that let me use the whole field, a little cleaner, more efficient swing. Using my legs better, stuff like that.

Video: Bruce happy for NYC return, playing for Callaway

MLB.com: What made you decide to go back to the Mets?

Bruce: Getting to know Mickey Callaway in Cleveland helped a lot. I knew the team that we had. We had a good team here. Because of some injuries last year, we were not able to do what we needed to do. It was a situation where I knew we had the pieces. I wanted to finish what we started.

MLB.com: What do you like about Mickey Callaway as a manager?

Bruce: He has been an easy guy to play for so far. He is a guy who is prepared. He doesn't want to micromanage. He wants you to be yourself, the best player you can be. He wants to put you in a position to be successful. It's been a lot of fun so far.

MLB.com: Callaway has this team off to a great start. What has he done to make this team believe they can win?

Bruce: He just lets us be ourselves. I think that is a huge deal. He said, "Listen you guys, we have a really solid team here. We have a great team full of very talented individuals. I'm going to do what I can to put you in the position to have success." I think he has done a great job of that.

MLB.com: Do the Mets think they can win the NL East title?

Bruce: We thought since we stepped into the clubhouse in Spring Training that we had the ability to win the division.

MLB.com: When I think of Jay Bruce, I think of Beaumont, Texas. You raised over $400,000 after Hurricane Harvey hit that town. Could you tell me what that town means to you?

Video: MLB Central talks to Jay Bruce about Texas and more

Bruce: Beaumont means everything to me. It's a huge part of what has made me who I am as a human being and as a baseball player. Right now, I have six of my friends from Beaumont, my best friends from high school. I met my wife there. My family still lives there. I started raising my family there. It's a place with a great sense of community. It has been so supportive of me, on and off the field. I just hope I can give back much more than I already have.

MLB.com: You were a free agent this past offseason. Were there any thoughts in your mind about playing in Texas?

Bruce: Absolutely. There was a lot of interest in playing in Houston. There was some talks with the Astros. There was a bit of traction, but it just never materialized.

MLB.com: What would it have meant to play in Texas?

Bruce: It would have meant a lot. But I understand it's a business. The business side of the game kind of dictates where you go. It would have been nice, but New York is great. I'm comfortable here. My family loves it. It's a cool switch up from my hometown. It's the greatest city in the world.

MLB.com: I'm going to mention one thing. Tell me what comes to mind. Let's start with Cleveland.

Video: NYY@CLE Gm2: Bruce hits game-tying solo homer in 8th

Bruce: One of the best times I ever had playing baseball.

MLB.com: Cincinnati.

Bruce: My first home as a Major League Baseball player. It's where I grew up. It will always hold a special place in my heart. I still keep in touch with some of the guys I played with. Probably my best memories as a player have come from there.

MLB.com: Dusty Baker.

Bruce: My mentor. He is someone who took a keen interest in me. He really raised me as a player. He cares about me as a human being. I still talk to him often.

MLB.com: May I ask you why?

Bruce: He is such a great man, on and off the field. He is someone I really respect. He is such a jack-of-all-trades. He is so multifaceted as a human being. It's awesome.

MLB.com: Is he a Hall of Famer?

Bruce: I believe so, yes.

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

New York Mets, Jay Bruce

Righty Bautista joins Mets; Robles optioned

Vargas ready to begin Minor League rehab stint; Flores greets young foster friends
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- At around 10:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Gerson Bautista received the call he had been seeking for years, but he didn't quite expect so soon. Bautista was told to pack his bags in New Hampshire, where the Mets' Double-A Binghamton affiliate was playing, and head to the airport for a short flight to Queens. Their bullpen taxed from Monday's 8-6 loss to the Nationals, the Mets wanted a fresh arm in Flushing in time for Tuesday's rematch.

"I'm really, really happy because this is the dream come true," Bautista said through an interpreter. "This is what I've been expecting my whole career, and I'm really happy."

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NEW YORK -- At around 10:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Gerson Bautista received the call he had been seeking for years, but he didn't quite expect so soon. Bautista was told to pack his bags in New Hampshire, where the Mets' Double-A Binghamton affiliate was playing, and head to the airport for a short flight to Queens. Their bullpen taxed from Monday's 8-6 loss to the Nationals, the Mets wanted a fresh arm in Flushing in time for Tuesday's rematch.

"I'm really, really happy because this is the dream come true," Bautista said through an interpreter. "This is what I've been expecting my whole career, and I'm really happy."

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One of three pitchers the Mets acquired for reliever Addison Reed last July, Bautista opened eyes this spring with a fastball that sat in the upper 90s. He topped out at 101 mph last season, though he attributes his early success at Binghamton -- 11 strikeouts in five shutout innings -- more to his ability to get ahead in counts. Catcher Tomas Nido, who spent the early part of this season with Bautista at Binghamton, credited an improved slider and changeup for the right-hander's success.

"He sure does have good command of his other pitches," Nido said. "He throws the ball hard as it is. So when he mixes those other pitches in around the zone, it makes him that much more effective."

Video: Gerson Bautista on being called up to Majors

Debuting later Tuesday, however, Bautista threw 18 fastballs and just one slider, topping out at 98 mph. He worked around a leadoff double and a one-out walk to pitch a scoreless ninth in the 5-2 loss.

"Bautista's been really, really good in the Minor Leagues -- I think very similar to what we saw in Spring Training, or maybe even a little bit better," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "We saw him throwing the ball over the plate with crisp stuff, a plus slider, plus velo obviously, and he was getting outs. So we're really excited that we get to see him here."

That the Mets called up Bautista and optioned Hansel Robles to Triple-A was mostly an indication of how they are managing their bullpen this season. The Mets are using optionable relievers to their advantage, giving them flexibility when any one arm shows signs of fatigue. Because Robles had pitched in three consecutive games and was unlikely to be available before Thursday, the Mets chose to ship him out in favor of a fresh arm, despite his success.

"He probably didn't deserve to go down," Callaway said. "It's the business side of things, so that was a tough conversation to have with him."

Video: NYM@MIA: Robles escapes a jam with a strikeout

Vargas progresses
Jason Vargas is ready to enter the final phase of his rehab from right hand surgery. Striking out 12 batters over six no-hit innings in a Minor League intrasquad game on Tuesday, the left-hander is prepared to begin a Minor League rehab assignment on Sunday. That will mark the first time he fields his position in a game; in all of his simulated and intrasquad games, Vargas pitched from behind an L screen.

If Vargas comes out of the rehab start without issue, he could return from the disabled list as soon as April 27 in San Diego -- five and a half weeks post-surgery.

Friends of Wilmer
About 90 minutes before the start of Tuesday's game, Wilmer Flores greeted 14 foster children from the El Puente program in Brooklyn as part of his "Friends of Flores" charity program. Flores signed shirts and other gear for the children, who received tickets to the game and a Friends of Flores t-shirt, among other goodies.

Tweet from @Mets: The face you make when you get Wilmer Flores��� ������. 😱 pic.twitter.com/tP7sLjJyPz

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Gerson Bautista, Hansel Robles

Key hit missing in Mets' loss to Nationals

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- Jose Reyes dropped his shoulder, looking for an outside pitch, realizing too late that Sammy Solis' offering was buzzing toward the inner half of the plate instead. Reyes was committed. He took a half swing at the 93-mph fastball as his momentum carried him a full step back toward the dugout, where Reyes lugged with him the Mets' best chance to come from behind Tuesday in a 5-2 loss to the Nationals.

"I'm kind of lost a little bit right now," said Reyes, whose sixth-inning strikeout stranded two of the 11 runners the Mets left on base on Tuesday. "I have to be better than that in that situation."

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NEW YORK -- Jose Reyes dropped his shoulder, looking for an outside pitch, realizing too late that Sammy Solis' offering was buzzing toward the inner half of the plate instead. Reyes was committed. He took a half swing at the 93-mph fastball as his momentum carried him a full step back toward the dugout, where Reyes lugged with him the Mets' best chance to come from behind Tuesday in a 5-2 loss to the Nationals.

"I'm kind of lost a little bit right now," said Reyes, whose sixth-inning strikeout stranded two of the 11 runners the Mets left on base on Tuesday. "I have to be better than that in that situation."

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The setup was precisely what the Mets desired: runners at the corners, one out in a one-run game at Citi Field. This was their chance to break through against the Nationals, to wash away the residue of a particularly stinging loss on Monday, to prevent one defeat from becoming something more.

Video: WSH@NYM: Solis strikes out Reyes on a foul tip

Solis fell behind in the count, 2-1, and Reyes, Mets manager Mickey Callaway's choice to bring home the tying run, swung wildly through the next pitch. The next offering came in near the bottom of the zone, and Reyes half-swung in a defensive manner, missing it completely. As he walked back to the bench, Reyes carried an 0-for-17 mark on the season, which the 16-year veteran attributed to an unfamiliarity pinch-hitting in games.

"You see the result," Reyes said. "This is my first time going through this in my long career. I used to play every single day, so I need to adjust to my new role. I'm going to figure it out. I know it's not easy for me, but I'll find a way."

Flamethrower Bautista called up, fans 1 in debut

Video: WSH@NYM: Wheeler, Reyes discuss examine the 5-2 loss

Reyes' at-bat was far from the Mets' only opportunity; although Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez was his usual sturdy self at Citi Field, improving to 11-1 with 1.78 ERA in 16 career starts at his home away from home, Zack Wheeler allowed just three runs in six innings to keep the Mets in striking distance. They were trailing by merely a run when Juan Lagares and Tomas Nido singled with one out in the sixth, bringing up Wheeler's spot in the order.

Video: WSH@NYM: Wheeler gets Taylor swinging in the 5th

With Gonzalez on the mound and another lefty, Solis, warm in the bullpen, Callaway could either turn to the switch-hitting Reyes, whose 0-for-16 slump included just three strikeouts, or tap one of his lefties on the bench: Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto or Adrian Gonzalez. Callaway opted for Reyes, and the Nationals called on Solis, who struck Reyes out on five pitches. The next batter, Amed Rosario, fouled out to end the inning.

"He was a good matchup," Callaway said of Reyes. "He's our switch-hitter off the bench, the only righty we had going against a lefty. I had confidence in Reyes in that spot."

Callaway also had confidence in Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce, who struck out in succession after the Mets again put runners on the corners with one out in the seventh, this time in a two-run game. In sum, the Mets finished 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

Video: WSH@NYM: Nats get strike-em out, throw-em out DP

The Nationals, meanwhile, kept tacking on runs, taking advantage of their ability to thieve at will against New York's pitchers and catchers. Stolen bases in the fourth, seventh and eighth innings led to runs, allowing the Nats to move back to .500 and within four games of their first-place hosts.

"So we didn't win the series," Frazier said. "We won five series before that. We've just got to keep thinking about the positives that come out of everything. No need to panic. Twelve and four is a really good record."

Video: WSH@NYM: Cabrera plates Wheeler with a sac fly

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Leadoff walks rarely end well for pitchers. Leadoff walks to Trea Turner, even less so. When Turner drew one off Robert Gsellman in the seventh inning, he almost immediately stole second base, just as Moises Sierra did in the fourth and Michael A. Taylor in the eighth. That allowed Turner to race home with an insurance run on Ryan Zimmerman's two-out single. The Mets have allowed 21 steals in 22 attempts this season, by far the most in the Majors. Their only caught-stealing came on a pickoff play.

"They've got a pretty good, fast team," Wheeler said. "You try to just mix it up, give your catchers a chance because you know they're going. There's no hiding that."

SOUND SMART
Wheeler finished 2-for-2 at the plate, increasing the pitching staff's batting average to .233 -- a higher mark than that of the Mets' catchers, first basemen, shortstops and left fielders. Of the team's rotation members, only Steven Matz has yet to record a hit.

Video: WSH@NYM: Wheeler singles, celebrates with Frazier

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The Nationals had a chance to do some early damage against Wheeler after Turner doubled to lead off the game and Bryce Harper and Zimmerman drew one-out walks to load the bases. The next batter, Sierra, hit a 59.6-mph ground ball that forced Rosario to charge aggressively in from shortstop. In one motion, Rosario fielded the ball and flipped to second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, who made a quick turn to complete the inning-ending double play.

HE SAID IT
"That's just the reality of the situation. I think it's because fans here in New York City are very passionate about their sports. That's what makes this the best sports city in the world. If we have to deal with that to be in the best place in the world, we will. It makes it fun, actually." -- Callaway, on the criticisms he has faced this homestand

UP NEXT
Fresh off his first win of the season, Matz will look to make it two in a row when he starts the Mets' 7:10 p.m. ET series finale against the Nationals at Citi Field. In Washington earlier this month, Matz held the Nats to a single unearned run in five innings.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets

Nimmo among eye-catching April performances

MLB.com @mike_petriello

Each week on the Statcast™ Podcast, hosts Mike Petriello and Matt Meyers dig into the world of Statcast™ and advanced metrics, exploring the most important topics in baseball through the lens of the groundbreaking Statcast™ technology. Download, subscribe and help others find the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes or your favorite platform.

It's true that it's only mid-April, still so early in the year that Joe Mauer entered Tuesday hitting .412 and Jose Ramirez .160. There are a lot of unexpected early-season numbers that won't last, because they simply can't. We go through this every year. Baseball takes some time to balance out.

Each week on the Statcast™ Podcast, hosts Mike Petriello and Matt Meyers dig into the world of Statcast™ and advanced metrics, exploring the most important topics in baseball through the lens of the groundbreaking Statcast™ technology. Download, subscribe and help others find the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes or your favorite platform.

It's true that it's only mid-April, still so early in the year that Joe Mauer entered Tuesday hitting .412 and Jose Ramirez .160. There are a lot of unexpected early-season numbers that won't last, because they simply can't. We go through this every year. Baseball takes some time to balance out.

That doesn't mean they don't hold some interest, however -- at least in the sense that digging deeper under the hood of a hot start or a cold one can tell you a little bit about why things look that way right now. At the very least, it's interesting enough to see some names you might not have thought about carrying some massive numbers.

There are five in particular that stood out to us. Which ones will last? 

1. Josh Hader, 61 percent strikeout rate
On Saturday in New York, Hader faced six Mets hitters. The first five -- Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores, Michael Conforto, Asdrubal Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes -- all struck out. (The sixth, Jay Bruce, flied out to center.) That seems to have been something of a coming-out party for the second-year Milwaukee lefty, but it shouldn't have been. He's established himself as one of the most high-upside relievers in the game, as he's whiffed 25 of the 41 batters he's seen so far.

If that sounds like hyperbole, it shouldn't be. Since 2008, over 1,200 pitchers have thrown at least 50 innings. Hader has struck out 40.5 percent of the batters he's faced, and that puts him third on that list, behind only Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman. Looking just at the rate of contact inside the zone -- i.e., pure dominance -- he's first.

Hader throws something like Chris Sale's fastball, from a similar low lefty release point, and Andrew Miller's slider. That'll play. It has played.

2. Adam Ottavino, 64.7 percent strikeout rate
Ottavino has struck out 22 of the 34 hitters he's faced, but he's getting there in a different way. Ottavino had previously been a very good reliever for Colorado, of course, but after 2015 Tommy John surgery interrupted his career, he struggled to throw strikes in '17 (5.06 ERA, 6.6 walks per nine) and didn't even make the Rockies' Wild Card Game roster.

Now Ottavino is throwing strikes. He's throwing sliders, more of them than almost anyone in baseball, and they look like this:

Video: SD@COL: Ottavino strikes out Pirela, side in the 9th

Not only that, Ottavino is throwing them in counts that no hitter would expect to see a slider in. For all the money the Rockies spent on relievers Wade Davis, Bryan Shaw, and Jake McGee last offseason, it's their longest-tenured pitcher who has been by far their best.

3. Brandon Nimmo, .590 xwOBA, second best in baseball
Nimmo has only had 27 plate appearances in the Mets' crowded outfield picture, but the entire point here is to highlight interesting small sample numbers and what they might mean. He's not going to keep hitting .333/.481/.714, of course, nor is he going to keep leading the National League in Expected wOBA, as he's doing now.

But we knew Nimmo had showed an elite line-drive rate, a potentially elite batting eye and above-average speed. So far, he's got four barrels, the best possible combination of exit velocity and launch angle, and 15.4 percent of his plate appearances have ended in a barrel -- a top-five rate in MLB.

4. Rick Porcello, .190 Expected wOBA, best in baseball
Porcello may have won the 2016 American League Cy Young Award, but he's never really been considered as a true "ace," at least the same way as current teammate Sale and former teammates Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander have been. In his first three starts of 2018, he's doing his best to change that viewpoint.

Video: NYY@BOS: Porcello flirts with no-no in stellar outing

To date, there have been 123 pitchers to face at least 50 hitters, and Porcell's Expected wOBA -- a number that includes strikeouts, walks and expected outcomes based on quality of contact -- of .190 is the lowest of anyone. That's in part because he's collected 17 strikeouts against just a single walk and no homers; it's also because his ground-ball rate of 52 percent is well up from last year's 40 percent.

5. Cleveland is baseball's most unfortunate hitting team
You don't need advanced stats to know that the Indians are off to a poor hitting start, since they're hitting a meager .208/.284/.355 to start 2018. It's the weakest line in the game. Is that due to poor luck or poor performance?

The answer, as you'd expect, is a little of both, but Indians are not this bad. They actually have the second-best hard-hit rate of any team in the game, and one of the 10 lowest strikeout rates in baseball. They're making enough contact and they're making hard contact. They're just not finding success -- as the worst-in-baseball .234 Batting Average on Balls in Play would indicate.

The unfortunate outcomes are to such an extent that the 81-point difference between the Indians' Expected wOBA (.347, which is actually above average) and their actual wOBA of .266 is the highest in baseball by quite a bit. On an individual basis, there have been 255 hitters with 30 times up, and Francisco Lindor (expected .438 wOBA, actual .296 wOBA) and Yonder Alonso (expected .442, actual .276) are both among the six biggest underperformers. It'll get better, Cleveland fans. It has to.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Josh Hader, Brandon Nimmo, Adam Ottavino, Rick Porcello

How well do you know the Mets' rotation?

On Monday, the New York Times ran a feature on the many foibles of Mets ace Jacob deGrom. The whole piece is worth a read, but one tidbit in particular caught our eye: deGrom -- all 6-foot-4, 180 pounds of him -- has the kind of diet that a kid could only dream of.

deGrom fans 12 in Mets' deepest start of 2018

Simple fix to windup helps right-hander round into form over 7 1/3 frames
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- Unhappy with his results despite a 3.06 ERA over his first three starts, Jacob deGrom took time following the last one to review his mechanics. He called up tape of his last start, in which he allowed four runs over six innings in Miami, splicing it side-by-side with an outing from 2015. Almost immediately, deGrom noticed that his arm was dropping when he swung it behind him to begin his delivery.

The fix was relatively simple and "even just playing catch, it made a big difference," said deGrom, who struck out a dozen Nationals over 7 1/3 innings Monday, taking a no-decision in the Mets' 8-6 loss at Citi Field.

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NEW YORK -- Unhappy with his results despite a 3.06 ERA over his first three starts, Jacob deGrom took time following the last one to review his mechanics. He called up tape of his last start, in which he allowed four runs over six innings in Miami, splicing it side-by-side with an outing from 2015. Almost immediately, deGrom noticed that his arm was dropping when he swung it behind him to begin his delivery.

The fix was relatively simple and "even just playing catch, it made a big difference," said deGrom, who struck out a dozen Nationals over 7 1/3 innings Monday, taking a no-decision in the Mets' 8-6 loss at Citi Field.

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Facing a lineup missing injured stars Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Adam Eaton, deGrom fell into an early hole when Bryce Harper muscled a broken-bat homer over the right-center-field fence in the first inning. He responded by retiring the next 10 batters he faced in succession, striking out six of them.

At just 84 pitches through seven innings, deGrom returned to the mound for the eighth, but allowed singles to two of the three batters he faced. Manager Mickey Callaway removed him at that point for reliever Seth Lugo, who walked a batter. Jerry Blevins then allowed both of deGrom's outstanding baserunners to score on a Harper single, resulting in three earned runs on deGrom's line.

Video: WSH@NYM: deGrom fans Kendrick for his 10th strikeout

"He was great against a really good lineup over there," Callaway said. "If he continues pitching like that, we're going to win most of those games, like we should have tonight."

Until Monday, a Mets team built around starting pitching had not been quite as advertised. Mets starters had performed well enough over the season's first fortnight, entering Monday's play seventh in the league in ERA. But the Mets had rocketed out to the best start in franchise history more on the shoulders of their bullpen and lineup than on anything related to their rotation.

Only one Mets starter, Zack Wheeler, had even thrown a pitch in the seventh inning. That changed rather dramatically on a cold, windy night at Citi Field, when deGrom became the first Mets starter to appear in the eighth.

The team was glad for the effort, even if it didn't ultimately bear fruit.

"When you have your starting pitcher who's just dealing like that and he goes out for the eighth -- it shouldn't happen, but maybe guys shut down a little bit mentally," Callaway said of his bullpen. "And all of the sudden, things get out of control."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Jacob deGrom