MIAMI -- When Noel Salas entered Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Marlins, he became Major League Baseball's co-leader in appearances, with eight in the Mets' first 12 games. A bullpen missing suspended closer Jeurys Familia has leaned more heavily on Salas than anyone, resulting in one of the sport's largest workloads.
Salas insists that was not a factor when he allowed back-to-back home runs to Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton in the eighth inning, turning a two-run lead into a one-run deficit. And manager Terry Collins insists that Salas was a better option than starting pitcher Jacob deGrom or lefty specialist Jerry Blevins.
"I don't know how many times we have to say that right now, we have made a commitment to take care of these guys, make sure we don't overdo them," Collins said of the Mets' starting pitchers, including deGrom. "When we blow a save, it's easy to second-guess that we could have run Jake out there. We could have run Jake out there.
"We have three pitchers that are coming off surgery. Now, if Jake goes out there and gets in trouble, the immediate thing is, 'Why didn't you take him out?' Right? That's the next question. I want to protect these guys. Jake was at basically 100 pitches. He was striking guys out. He was pitching great. But that's enough. Fernando Salas has done nothing but put up zeroes, so we went with that."
Over his first seven appearances, Salas did not allow a run, striking out eight batters over 7 2/3 innings. But the right-hander cracked with two outs and the bases empty in his eighth appearance, walking Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas. Instead of replacing Salas with Blevins, Collins let his setup man pitch to the next batter, left-hander Yelich, who lifted a game-tying homer over the right-field fence.
"He's pitched like five out of six [games], so we tried to avoid that," Collins said of Blevins. [Salas] has gotten lefties out. He's gotten righties out. It's just one of those nights."
"I feel bad for the team because they played hard every inning," Salas said. "Late, you've got to hold them in the game."
For much of the evening, it seemed like the night belonged to no one but deGrom. "He was pretty dialed in today," Yelich said of the Mets starter, who matched his career-high with 13 strikeouts in seven innings. Four of those came on the final four batters he faced, leaving open the possibility that deGrom could start the eighth at 97 pitches.
But Collins, citing a desire to keep deGrom healthy following surgery to move his ulnar collateral nerve, never even considered it. And deGrom, who does not have a win this season despite a 1.89 ERA, agreed with his manager's decision.
"I kind of figured I was done after that inning," deGrom said. "It's early in the season. Off of surgery, I had a feeling that I was going to be done.
"The goal is to be able to pitch all year. I wasn't able to do that last year. The goal is to stay healthy. It's early in the season. Salas has done a great job for us. He did a great job for us last year. It was a rough inning for him. That's rare that that happens. I felt very comfortable handing the ball over to the guys in the bullpen."