LOS ANGELES - Regardless of who manages the Mets, it's going to be difficult for them to start winning again without scoring any runs. And it's hard to pin that on Jerry Manuel, who didn't pick up a bat during the Mets' 2-0 loss to the Dodgers Thursday night at Chavez Ravine.
As for the players who did, it turned out to be a waste of time against Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda (8-8), who allowed five hits and a walk in eight innings.
That was good enough to beat Hisanori Takahashi (7-5), who gave up two runs, three hits - including Matt Kemp's two-out RBI double in the first and home run in the seventh - and two walks in seven innings.
The Mets took their seventh loss in eight games on this miserable West Coast trip - the only win came courtesy of umpire Phil Cuzzi's blown call last Sunday against the Giants - and were shut out for the third time.
The Mets have not scored in 17 innings since Rod Barajas' tying solo homer in the sixth inning of Wednesday's 4-3, 14-inning loss to the Diamondbacks. On this trip alone, they also have a 24-inning scoreless streak - out of a total of 77 innings played.
"We eventually at some point have to turn this around," Manuel said. "We're not doing ourselves any good playing close games and losing. We've got to find a way to turn it around. Somebody's got to find a way to get hot and carry us. It's just something that needs to happen. We need one or two guys to get hot, heat up, and we'll be fine. Our bats are just silent."
The Mets (49-47) fell 71/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East and four games behind the wild card-leading Giants (53-43).
"I think what --- is that coming in, we weren't expecting to go 8-3 and blow this trip away," Jeff Francoeur said. "But at the same time, we didn't expect to be 1-7 with three games left. So we better come in tomorrow and get our heads out of our --- and get going, really. We're not helping our pitchers out and we're not going what we need to do offensively."
Maybe it's some tiny consolation that the Mets finally did get a runner in scoring position for the first time in 11 innings, dating to the seventh inning Wednesday. That happened in the fifth, when Francoeur singled with one out and hustled to third on Chris Carter's single to rightfield.
Both were in the lineup as replacements for Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay, respectively, and next up was Josh Thole, who got the bonus start behind the plate as part of Manuel's search for an offensive spark.
It didn't work. Thole took a called third strike from Kuroda and Luis Castillo was intentionally walked to set up a showdown between the two Japanese pitchers as Takahashi stepped to the plate.
That created a problem for Manuel. As desperate as the manager was to score, Takahashi had pitched too well to that point, and the Mets' bullpen was tired after pitching nine innings of relief in Wednesday's loss. So with the game hanging in the balance, Takahashi grounded to short.
"If could have hit in that situation," Takahashi said through an interpreter, "the game was different. But I didn't make it. I might have to practice more."
The Mets put only one more runner in scoring position - with two outs in the ninth inning, when David Wright took second on defensive indifference. The Mets are 5-for-36 with runners in scoring position since the All-Star break.
"We're just not clicking right now," hitting coach Howard Johnson said. "I'll tell you, it's tough. The hardest thing is making sure everyone tries to stay positive, to find good things out of the game. Even though you're struggling as a group, you've got to find the positives. That's what we're struggling to find right now.
"But some of the pieces are still there. We're trying to kind of find our way again. It's a process, and I think we'll get this thing turned around soon. I always think we're close. We just haven't got on a roll yet."
When the Mets tried to force the issue, they were thrown out twice trying to steal second base. Wright was cut down after his two-out single in the first inning and Jose Reyes was nabbed after his leadoff single in the fourth.
The Mets kept Takahashi in the rotation despite the beating he took from the Giants last Saturday at AT&T Park, where he allowed seven hits and six runs in 22/3 innings. To be fair, that was a tough assignment, as Takahashi was moved up two days - on short notice - to replace Mike Pelfrey, who had to be bumped because of a stiff neck.
But in the days leading up to Thursday night's start against the Dodgers, Manuel suggested that Takahashi was down to his final chance to remain a starter, even with few decent in-house alternatives. If so, Takahashi earned another look by mostly quieting the Dodgers after they took a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
"I think that he wanted to prove that he could still start and be a contributor at this level," said Manuel, adding that Takahashi will start again. "I think that's the biggest motivation that he has is that he probably wants to stay in the rotation. This is what he wants."
In the first ining, Takahashi walked Jamey Carroll with one out, and after Andre Ethier lined to rightfield, he got ahead of Kemp 0-and-2. That's when Takahashi made one of his few mistakes; he threw a third straight fastball, and Kemp swatted the 89-mph pitch off the top of the rightfield wall for an RBI double.
Takahashi retired the next 10 Dodgers before James Loney opened the fifth with a single to left. Thole erased Loney trying to steal, and Los Angeles didn't get another runner in scoring position. That didn't mean the Dodgers didn't score, however.
Kemp haunted Takahashi again in the seventh by hitting his second pitch of the inning deep into the left-centerfield bleachers. That put the Dodgers up 2-0, and with the Mets' recent futility at the plate, the lead might as well have been 10-0.
"We have to pat him on the back and say good job," Manuel said. "Tell him to take the ball the next turn and give us that same effort. If you continue to give us that effort, eventually we'll have to score some runs. If we get that kind of effort, we'll be fine."
After the game, the Mets designated Fernando Nieve for assignment. Nieve was Manuel's go-to reliever at the start of the season, but he burned out early to level off at 2-4 with a 6.00 ERA in 40 appearances, including one start. Nieve gave up Chris Snyder's game-winning single in the 14th inning of Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Diamondbacks. The Mets are likely to summon Manny Acosta from Triple-A Buffalo for Friday night's game against the Dodgers.