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Dice-K labors as Mets drop opener in Atlanta

Righty allows six runs, throws 72 pitches over three innings

ATLANTA -- Despite their limitations at the tail end of another lost summer, the Mets continue to operate with an eye toward winning as often as possible down the stretch. Finishing strong is important to them, even if that means an accomplishment as modest as slipping into third place instead of fourth.

When they signed him late last month, the Mets hoped Daisuke Matsuzaka could be part of that short-term solution. Instead, he has only exacerbated the problem. Once again struggling with his pace on the mound, Matsuzaka served up six runs over three innings of a 13-5 loss to the Braves.

Afterward, Matsuzaka said through an interpreter that if the Mets removed him from the rotation, he would "accept" it. But manager Terry Collins said he will almost certainly give Matsuzaka another start, in large part because the team has few other viable options.

"There's no reason why we don't probably run him back out there again," Collins said of Matsuzaka, who is 0-3 with a 10.95 ERA in three starts since joining the Mets. "He's got to keep going. He's got to keep battling. So we'll get him ready for his next start.

"He's got to get going for us. We've got a lot more games to play this month, and he's going to be part of those games right now."

The barrage began in the first inning at Turner Field, where Freddie Freeman's two-run double plated Jordan Schafer and Justin Upton, each of whom singled to start the rally. With Matsuzaka laboring, Freeman later crushed a three-run homer to cap a four-run second-inning burst.

"I've never faced him," Freeman said. "I didn't even watch video. I just went up there and put my foot down. When you go out and face guys you've never faced before, my approach is to be aggressive. It's kind of easier when there are guys on base. They have to come at you, because they don't want to walk you to load up the bases. He was aggressive, and I was able to capitalize on some mistakes."

Though Matsuzaka settled down to retire the final four batters he faced, the Mets lifted him for a pinch-hitter with two men on base in the fourth -- a move that paid dividends when Zach Lutz delivered an RBI double off the center-field wall. With that, Matsuzaka's day ended after three innings and 72 pitches, only 44 of them strikes. On multiple occasions, he again took more than 30 seconds between pitches, an issue that the Mets asked him to correct between starts.

"I had pace in my mind when I went out there today, to try to take my time when I needed the time and try to pitch when I needed to pitch," Matsuzaka said. "But I probably wasn't able to get into a good rhythm. Maybe sometimes I took too much time, sometimes not enough time. That's an error that I obviously need to work on."

Though the Mets have precious few alternatives to fill out their starting staff, particularly given their desire to limit rookie Zack Wheeler's innings down the stretch, they signed Aaron Harang over the weekend for a measure of rotation depth. A veteran of 12 Major League seasons, Harang is a realistic short-term option for the rotation.

Still, Collins said, the organization is not ready to cut ties with Matsuzaka just yet.

"I know him and I know … that he will get himself ready," Collins said of Matsuzaka, whose next turn in the rotation falls Sunday in Cleveland. "Nobody works harder than he does to get prepared. One of the things we are a little surprised at is he has been so known for locating his pitches, and that's something he hasn't been doing. So we've got to figure out something or try to pick up something in the game films to get that back, because that's the key to his success."

The Mets did plenty of damage themselves Monday against Braves starter Paul Maholm and an uncharacteristically leaky Atlanta bullpen, but could not come close to completing the comeback. About 14 hours after wrapping up a three-game series in Washington, a tired group of Mets rallied for one run in the second on a Matsuzaka RBI single, two in the fourth and two in the seventh. But by that point, nearly three hours into a contest that would last almost four, the game was out of reach.

The Braves scored three more times in the eighth off David Aardsma, ballooning the final margin to eight.

"It was a long game, but we were able to get out to an early lead, so it makes it a little bit easier," Freeman said. "We didn't let off the throttle. We just kept going and scoring some more runs."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.
Read More: New York Mets, Gonzalez Germen, Daniel Murphy, Pedro Feliciano, Zach Lutz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Vic Black, David Aardsma, Tim Byrdak, LaTroy Hawkins