Josh Thole converses with Johan Santana during the second inning...

Josh Thole converses with Johan Santana during the second inning against the Atlanta Braves. (April 17, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

ATLANTA -- It was 19 months ago that Johan Santana walked off the mound at Turner Field, complained of shoulder discomfort and wound up on the operating table.

What happened Tuesday night was less disconcerting for the Mets, but still disappointing as Santana handed the baseball to Terry Collins after only four outs, the shortest outing of his career. The line wasn't pretty: four hits, six runs, 55 pitches -- but no injuries.

Though there were flashbacks to that early September night in 2010, the big difference is that Santana said he felt fine and reported no problems with his surgically repaired shoulder.

"When I went to the bullpen, I pictured the whole thing," Santana said after the Mets' 9-3 loss to the Braves. "Even when I was walking to the mound in the first inning, I looked at the rubber, and I was, 'OK,' but I put it away. I just got another short outing here, back-to-back. Hopefully, the next one will be longer."

With Santana's pitch count escalating, and the Mets down 6-0, Collins had seen enough and determined there was no point in him continuing. The manager has pledged to be protective of Santana, and this was a time when he needed to step in a little earlier than usual.

"I wasn't going to let him stay out there and throw and throw and throw," Collins said. "I thought he threw enough pitches for the game. That's why I got him out."

On a night that began with Jason Bay botching Michael Bourn's fly ball -- the day after his spectacular home run-robbing grab -- it only got worse for Santana. Never before had he failed to make it out of the second inning. Previously, his shortest stint had been three innings -- done three times, most recently on June 14, 2009, in a 15-0 loss to the Yankees.

Santana's outing was brief, but also telling. Since 2000, only CC Sabathia has more strikeouts (2,038) than Santana (1,890) and Tuesday marked the first time in his 12-year career that he did not record a strikeout in a start, spanning 266 overall. That also ended a streak of 243 appearances with at least one. In his previous two starts, Santana had 13 strikeouts in 10 innings. He allowed six runs Tuesday, but only four were earned because of the errors by Bay and Ike Davis.

"We don't expect it," Collins said, "but we do know that there's a possibility it's going to happen. It happens to everybody. As we get this guy back in the swing of things, being in his routine, we hope we don't have to experience this."

Santana's velocity was there -- his fastball was in the usual 88-90 range -- but the location was not. Neither was the run support. Entering Tuesday night, Santana was 0-1 with a 0.90 ERA, but the Mets had yet to score a run in 10 innings with him on the mound. Collins didn't give him much time to buck that trend.

"He told me he didn't want to take any risk," Santana said. "It was a good thing, I guess. I want to compete, I want to stay in the game. But it's just the plan and I have to be very careful."

Thanks to Bay's two-base error, when the ball just clanged off the side of his glove, Chipper Jones' sacrifice fly put the Braves up 1-0 before it all came apart in the second inning.

The first red flag was an 11-pitch at-bat by Freddie Freeman, who sliced an RBI double inside the leftfield line. Tyler Pastornicky smacked a run-scoring double, and after Davis' throwing error, Jason Heyward ended Santana's night with a run-scoring single that put the Braves up 6-0.

"I didn't even sweat," Santana said. "But it's part of the game and I've just got to bounce back. I can't wait to go back again and do my job."