LOS ANGELES - To this point, the challenges had been much more subtle.
David Wright's offensive descent has been hastened by pitchers around the league, who by their actions alone, have shown they no longer face him with fear. Wright has been dared to hit fastballs, and he has often fallen short of the challenge.
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But Saturday night, with his team up just one run in the seventh, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly upped the stakes. It didn't matter that the tying run was already on second base, or that Daniel Murphy represented the go-ahead run. In the Mets' 7-4 loss to the Dodgers, Mattingly called for an intentional walk of Murphy to pitch to Wright.
The move worked. Wright struck out, extinguishing the Mets' best chance of avoiding their fifth loss in the last six.
"The numbers speak for themselves right now," Wright said. "Obviously, it's something where just as I don't feel good at the plate, the other team can probably see that I don't feel very good at the plate."
It's a perplexing free-fall for Wright, who is in the midst of the worst season of his career. He went 0-for-5 against the Dodgers, which included a pair of double plays and his critical strikeout in the seventh against Zack Greinke.
"It's tough to pinpoint," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "In my time here, I haven't seen him scuffle like he has this year."
Wright fell to 2-for-17 on this West Coast trip. For the season, his average dipped to .265 with a .368 slugging percentage that underscores his sudden loss of power.
"This is no fun," Wright said. "I'm not having fun. The team's not having any fun."
In his first start back from a two-week stay on the disabled list, Jacob deGrom allowed five runs in six innings, the most runs he had allowed in a start since June 16, when the Cardinals tagged him for six. But deGrom (6-6) showed no sign of the shoulder soreness that had sidelined him, with his fastball crackling with typical velocity.
"I felt good," deGrom said. "It's just, a lot of outings come down to a few pitches, and tonight I didn't make the big pitches when I needed to."
Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez tied a season high with five RBIs, including a three-run shot.
Juan Lagares and Lucas Duda each hit homers for the Mets, who couldn't mount anything more against Greinke (13-8). Pitching with two extra days' rest because of discomfort in his right elbow, Greinke scattered nine hits over seven innings, and held the Mets to three runs.
It might have been different had Wright come through. In the first, he grounded into an inning-ending double play. In the fifth, he repeated the feat. Both times, the Mets squandered hits by Murphy.
"It's a bad night," Wright said.
The slump has been exasperating for Wright. He has worked to "get back to consistently feeling comfortable and dangerous at the plate the majority of the at-bats."
"Right now," he said, "it's not there."
But for now, Collins said he is content to let Wright keep playing in hopes of turning the tide. And Wright continued to insist that he's in good health, despite a balky left shoulder that required a cortisone shot during the All-Star break.
Said Wright: "If I'm in the lineup, I expect to produce."