DENVER - It's good that John Maine says his shoulder is fine because he has plenty of other stuff to worry about these days. Such as a fastball that putters along at 88 mph, his shaky hold on a rotation spot and a glass-jawed Mets team that provides no margin for error for its pitching staff.
That's not a winning formula, and for Jerry Manuel, a manager inching closer to exit, the Mets' 11-3 loss to the Rockies on Tuesday night was an ominous sign. Before the game, Manuel had talked about how "disappointed" he was in his team for its awful performance in Sunday's loss to Livan Hernandez and the Nationals.
Given the day off to come up with some solutions, it soon became apparent that nothing had changed. Manuel did start Angel Pagan in centerfield, but batted him eighth rather than move Jose Reyes into the No. 3 spot, which may come later this week if the offense continues to falter.
As for other possible adjustments, Maine's spot in the rotation could be in jeopardy after he matched a career high by allowing eight runs in three innings. Maine had given up that many runs twice before, but not since 2008, and his 13.50 ERA after two starts is not exactly what the Mets need from their No. 2 behind Johan Santana.
Manuel said he was "concerned" after Maine's implosion, and when asked specifically about his spot in the rotation, the manager didn't provide a ringing endorsement.
"I think those are things we have to talk about," Manuel said. "I think right now, right after this game, you have to kind of sleep on that and see how you feel tomorrow. Hopefully, he feels OK. But you have to have dialogue about it. That's just the business of the game."
When Maine did have shoulder issues last season, at least there was an explanation for his lack of velocity. Now that he insists there are no health problems, it's even more unsettling, and Maine looked shaken after the loss.
"To get hit around like that is frustrating," Maine said. "This is awful right now. I hate everything about what's going on right now."
Maine believes the problem is with the location of his fastball, not so much the fact that it's way down from the 95 he once threw during his 15-win season in 2007. But the Mets are beginning to think otherwise, and unless he finds a few more mph in a hurry, Maine could find himself on the DL with another murky shoulder condition.
"I think that's part of the issue," Manuel said. "When the performance is as it is, you have to consider that because historically, he's been able to get by with being able to miss location and have a foul ball or something like that because he had a little extra on it. But right now, that's not the case."
Faced with an 8-0 deficit, the Mets made Greg Smith look like Greg Maddux for seven innings. The Rockies' starter didn't allow a hit until Reyes' two-out single in the third inning and the Mets didn't get their first run until David Wright's solo homer in the sixth. Smith earned his first victory since 2008 in dropping the Mets to 2-5.
"It is frustrating," said Reyes, who had two hits but also struck out twice. "But we're trying and it's early. We have real good hitters on this team and it's going to get better."
Maine's trouble with high pitch counts continued with 75 over that short stretch. Another bad omen? Lefthanders had batted only .159 against Maine last season - the lowest mark by any qualifying starter and the fifth lowest among pitchers overall.
On Tuesday, Rockies lefties were 5-for-11 with two walks, a double and a home run.
Twice, Maine was only one pitch away from escaping serious damage and couldn't get it. Brad Hawpe stung him for a two-run double with two outs in the first inning and the Rockies scored six runs in the third.
With two outs. Ian Stewart ripped a run-scoring single through Fernando Tatis - a more capable first baseman probably would have gloved it - and Clint Barmes got a measure of revenge for getting drilled in the second inning by hammering a hard grounder back at Maine.
Maine stopped it with a kick save, but stumbled as he lunged forward for the ball, and tried to make an off-balance throw to first from his knees. That turned out to be a bad idea when Tatis did a terrible job of trying to field the one-hop throw. By waiting for the ball, rather than reaching for it, the throw carried into the runner and shot past Tatis, allowing two runs to score.
It got worse. the pitcher Smith, in only his fifth career at-bat, punched a run-scoring double down the leftfield line and Seth Smith launched a long two-run homer that caromed off the back wall above the Rockies bullpen in right-centerfield.