HOUSTON - The Mets have to hope R.A. Dickey's outstanding 2010 season was a breakthrough and not an aberration. After nine outings in 2011, Dickey's numbers are closer to the pitcher he was before he joined the Mets -- and that's not a good thing.
Dickey was lit up for 11 hits and six runs in the Mets' 7-3 loss to the Astros Saturday at Minute Maid Park. The knuckleballer fell to 1-5 and his ERA rose to 5.08.
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Dickey had a 22-28 record and a 4.70 ERA before joining the Mets before last season as one of former general manager Omar Minaya's best under-the-radar signings.
The Mets, under current general manager Sandy Alderson, signed Dickey to a two-year, $7.8-million contract in late January even though he was not eligible for free agency. Considering the cash-starved position the Mets are in, it was a gutsy commitment to a 36-year-old whose 11-9, 2.84 mark in 2010 was by far his best showing in a spotty eight-year career.
"Last year, I just had so many more clean innings," Dickey said. "I think this year I've really been fighting to get any real momentum. I feel like it's there and then it's gone and then it's there and then it's gone, instead of just feeling a real consistent feel for the pitch and for what I need to do with the pitch. Again, I know it's hard to see that right now, but hopefully at the end of the year, the overall body of work is going to reflect some better consistency than what I've seen so far."
Knuckleballers are well-known late bloomers, and Dickey has been throwing the pitch only since 2005. When it's on, it's virtually untouchable. But it wasn't on in Dickey's first inning and final inning.
In the first, six of the first seven Astros got hits, including five in a row after one out. Seven batters into the game and the Mets were down 4-0.
Previously this season, Dickey had been terrific in the first inning; batters were 2-for-22 (.091) against him in the initial frame.
Dickey realized after two innings that his knuckler just wasn't knuckling. So instead of throwing it 85 percent of the time, as he usually does, he estimated he threw it 40 percent of the time the rest of his outing. And it helped -- for a while.
The Mets, who came back from a 4-0 seventh-inning deficit in Friday night's 6-4 win, started to chip away at J.A. Happ (3-4). Justin Turner singled to drive in Jose Reyes in the third inning and Daniel Murphy slammed a home run in the fourth to cut the Astros' lead in half.
But Dickey allowed home runs to Bill Hall and pinch hitter Matt Downs in the sixth, giving the Astros a 6-2 lead. He was done after 51/3 innings.
"I think the biggest thing I saw from last year [to now] is he isn't getting ahead in the count," manager Terry Collins said. "He's falling behind. The knuckleball's his pitch and he's gotten himself where he's got to make some pitches with it, and that's a difficult pitch to control."
Carlos Lee, who picked up his 2,000th hit with a first-inning single, made it 7-2 in the seventh with a solo shot off Ryota Igarashi.
The Mets, whose winning streak was snapped at three games, were without Carlos Beltran. He was scratched from the original lineup after waking up with a swollen right eye and is not sure if he can play Sunday.