PHOENIX — There reached a point Monday night when the only options presented to manager Terry Collins were bad. It came in the seventh inning, when starter Zack Wheeler allowed a leadoff single.
That’s when the fate of the Mets would be placed in the shaky hands of a burned-out bullpen.
One inning later, the Mets relived a recurring nightmare, when an overwhelmed Hansel Robles got battered in a 7-3 loss to the Diamondbacks,
Robles retired the final man in the seventh, then allowed the Diamondbacks to stage a home run derby in the eighth, the beginning of a six-run outburst. Two batters after Paul Goldschmidt narrowly missed a go-ahead solo homer, Robles served up a three-run shot to Yasmany Tomas, who crushed a 97-mph fastball off the batter’s eye well above the 25-foot fence in straightaway center.
“It was just a high pitch and it was a mistake,” Robles said through a translator.
Three batters later, Jeff Mathis drilled a two-run shot off Robles, whose inconsistency has defined his tenure with the Mets. Earlier this season, the hard-throwing righty had gone 14 innings without allowing a run. But in his last two outings, he’s been scored upon nine times.
“We use him often because he’s got such a great arm,” Collins said. “But when you’ve got to make pitches, he’s had a tough time making that quality pitch you need to make.”
Lefty Josh Edgin entered in relief of Robles only to surrender a solo shot to pinch hitter Daniel Descalso. In one inning, the Diamondbacks transformed a 1-1 tie into another bullpen-induced rout, sending the skidding Mets (16-21) to their fifth consecutive loss.
The Mets thought they caught a break with the score tied 1-1 in the eighth, when replay turned Goldschmidt’s homer into a ground-rule double. Video showed the drive struck the yellow line in center instead of clearing it. But the call alone wasn’t enough to spare the Mets, who got a two-run shot out of Wilmer Flores in the ninth, though it was mostly cosmetic.
“Somebody has [ticked] off the baseball gods,” Collins said, relaying a phrase he heard in the dugout.
However, the Mets’ recent skid has less to do with the supernatural, and more to do with their pitching.
On April 28, Jacob deGrom limited the Nationals to three runs in seven innings. No Mets starter has recorded an out in the seventh inning since. In the 14 games that followed, the starting rotation combined for an ERA of 7.54, with a staggering 5.1 walks per nine innings. The length of the average start: 4 2⁄3 innings.
That lack of length has only further overexposed a taxed bullpen. Of the eight relievers in the National League with at least 20 appearances, four call the Mets bullpen home. Robles and his 5.23 ERA is among that group.
Zack Wheeler allowed just one run in six-plus innings. And though he extended the starters’ streak to 15 games without recording the 19th out, he at least earned the chance.
“I let up some hard-hit balls,” said Wheeler, who averaged 95 mph with his fastball and threw 108 pitches, his most since coming back. “I fell behind a good bit tonight and got lucky that they hit them right to guys. It was just one of those games.”
Wheeler began the seventh inning, with Collins hoping to squeeze perhaps at least one more out from his starter before turning things over to the bullpen. For the second consecutive game, the bullpen faltered.
Notes & quotes: Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes will soon begin a running program, a major step as he works his way back from a strained left hamstring. The progression would take five to six days to complete, putting him on track to rejoin the Mets in little more than a week if he has no setbacks . . . Lefty Steven Matz and righty Seth Lugo will throw in an extended spring training game Thursday. Both are on the DL with elbow injuries . . . The Mets are weighing whether to skip Robert Gsellman’s next turn in the rotation, a move made possible by Thursday’s team day off. Gsellman has a 7.07 ERA in eight games.