The Mets bullpen is as taxed as it is tattered.
A relief corps that has provided little relief lost for the 20th time Sunday when the Dodgers ripped Ramon Ramirez for five 12th-inning runs in an 8-3 win that completed a three-game sweep.
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Ineffective starts by Johan Santana and Miguel Batista forced the bullpen to work six innings in each of the first two games of the series, so a 4-hour, 43-minute marathon in the finale was the last thing this reeling unit needed.
"They're going to be tired," manager Terry Collins said, looking ahead to the rest of the homestand, a three-game series that begins Monday night against the NL East-leading Nationals.
Monday, he's banking on a strong effort from veteran righthander Chris Young (2-4, 4.11 ERA). "I have all the confidence in the world that Chris will get us deep into the game," Collins said.
Lefthanded reliever Tim Byrdak also is looking to the rotation to provide a desperately needed respite. "Our starting pitching has been key for us this year," he said. "If they can get us deep into the game the next couple of days, it will give us time to catch our breath."
Collins might have to lean on Young and ace knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who starts Tuesdaynight, more than he would like to in what has turned into such a wild scramble for healthy and resilient arms that Dickey supplied the final inning of Saturday's 8-5 defeat.
With Santana (sprained right ankle) joining fellow starter Dillon Gee (right shoulder surgery) on the disabled list, the Mets made two emergency calls to Triple-A Buffalo. Righthander Jeremy Hefner, recalled Saturday after Santana went down, makes an emergency start Wednesday. Highly regarded righthanded rookie Matt Harvey debuts in Arizona against the Diamondbacks on Thursday night.
The bullpen has a major league-worst 5.05 ERA and is tied for second with 16 blown saves. The Mets have been without closer Frank Francisco since he went on the 15-day disabled list June 24 with a left oblique strain and the pen is showing the strain caused by his absence. The relievers have permitted at least one run in eight of nine games since the All-Star break and the Mets have lost all but one of those contests.
Francisco was heartened by how well he felt during a 40-pitch session before Sunday's game.
"I'm trying to do whatever I can to be there, but it's a process," he said. "I've got to take the time and play it safe. I don't want to miss the rest of the season."
Then again, the season appeared to be slipping away even as he spoke.