The Mets now have even more motivation to maintain their lead over the Nationals. They're hoping to use any leeway to step up efforts to manage the workloads of their young pitchers.
Already, some of that overarching plan has taken shape, with Terry Collins acknowledging that ace Matt Harvey could be skipped for a second time this season.
"He's pitching right now as well as he has all year," said Collins, who nevertheless said the Mets have circled two potential dates to rest Harvey.
Also, the Mets officially named Steven Matz the Sunday starter against the Marlins. He will pitch in place of Noah Syndergaard, who will be skipped.
The Mets also intend to adopt a six-man rotation. But if the Mets can afford to do it, a source said the team could shift into innings-management mode, which may include more aggressive measures.
That could include skipping Syndergaard for an additional turn. Also, pitching coach Dan Warthen told Newsday on Tuesday that Jacob deGrom also could be skipped, assuming the Mets stay safely ahead of the Nationals.
However, the Mets' lead in the standings and a choice of available arms has prompted them to take the long view, all in hopes of avoiding a Stephen Strasburg-like shutdown for any of their young arms.
The availability of Matz and rookie Logan Verrett as alternatives to start down the stretch has shaped their thinking.
Harvey, who was skipped Aug. 23, entered Wednesday night with 160 innings in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Nobody from the organization has put a firm innings cap on him, though a desire has grown of late to be more cautious with his workload.
At 152 innings, the rookie Syndergaard is already above the 133 he logged a year ago. At 163 innings, deGrom is approaching the 1782/3 he pitched in 2014. Generally, teams prefer to increase year-by-year workloads by roughly 20 percent.
The Mets' innings-conservation plans only add to an already critical three-game series against the Nationals starting Monday afternoon. Jonathon Niese is slated to start the opener, despite a 9.92 ERA in his last three starts. He'll be followed by Harvey and deGrom.
"I just told Jon [Tuesday] night when I took him out," said Collins, who did not consider taking the assignment away from Niese. "OK, you've had a couple of bad outings. The next game is the biggest game you've ever pitched in your life, so get ready for it."