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Mets' post-break scoreless streak reaches 18 innings; Zito outduels Niese, 1-0

The Mets' David Wright walks to the dugout

The Mets' David Wright walks to the dugout after striking out in the third inning against the San Francisco Giants. (July 16, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

SAN FRANCISCO - At least Jerry Manuel didn't bother to put Jose Reyes in Friday night's lineup against the Giants. Still, the manager's efforts to make up for Reyes' absence resulted in a few other head-scratching decisions.

At the very top of that list - literally - was batting 20-year-old rookie shortstop Ruben Tejada in the leadoff spot followed by Jason Bay, who is not exactly a prototypical No. 2 hitter.

Manuel's strange tinkering with the lineup was primarily because of Reyes' lingering oblique injury. But it also was affected by his pledge to use Jeff Francoeur against lefthanded starters, and lefty Barry Zito was on the mound Friday for the Giants.

The combination of Zito and Manuel's shuffled lineup spelled doom for the Mets, who have been shut out for 18 consecutive innings after Friday's 1-0 loss to the Giants at AT&T Park. The Mets have not scored since Josh Thole's RBI single in the eighth inning of Sunday's 3-0 win over the Braves at Citi Field.

"He either did a good job or we made him look good," Manuel said of Zito, who outdueled Jonathon Niese. "Either way, something happened."

On Thursday, Tim Lincecum pitched a six-hit shutout for his first complete game of the season, beating the Mets, 2-0. Zito, who had not won since June 12, followed that Friday with eight scoreless innings, tying a season high with 10 strikeouts.

"With or without Jose, we've got to find a way to win," David Wright said. "We don't know when we're going to get Jose back. But until then, we've got to find a way to get something going."

Reyes, who took batting practice Friday, said after the game that he was "swinging a little harder" and felt much better. Manuel said Monday might be a realistic return date, but Reyes did not rule out Sunday, depending on how he feels upon waking up Saturday morning.

"They said I could only do one activity [Friday],'' Reyes said. "Hopefully, [Saturday] I can do everything."

The Mets had only two hits against Zito, but Wright provided a brief glimmer of hope in the ninth inning with his two-out single off Giants closer Brian Wilson. Next up was Carlos Beltran, who worked the count to 3-and-2 before striking out on a 97-mph fastball to end the game.

"I felt like I had a real good chance," Beltran said. "He threw me a pitch right there and I missed it."

Beltran had a pop-up double that dropped into shallow rightfield and is 2-for-8 since returning from the disabled list. Manuel suggested that he could rest Beltran on Saturday, but the topic had yet to be discussed with the centerfielder.

Niese had allowed one or no runs in seven of his previous 16 starts, which placed him 12th in the National League, five behind the leader in that category, Florida's Josh Johnson. But that's not a guarantee of victory these days with the Mets. Just ask R.A. Dickey, who allowed only one run in seven innings Thursday and still took the loss.

"There's never a doubt in my mind that we're going to score runs," Niese said. "But Barry did a good job."

With the Mets' offense AWOL since the All-Star break, there has been zero margin for error, and Niese got tripped up in the fourth inning.

The Giants' one-out rally began with a walk to Aubrey Huff, who went to third on Buster Posey's double that landed a foot inside the rightfield line.

Pat Burrell slapped a grounder to Alex Cora, who was playing at medium depth. When Huff broke for the plate, it appeared that Cora had a good shot at cutting him down. Despite a strong throw, however, it was too late to beat the sliding Huff - and the ball squirted free of Rod Barajas' glove anyway.

The Mets were a little more optimistic about Reyes on Friday after he took batting practice from the left side, which had been the biggest issue for him. He looked tentative taking those swings, and just the fact that he was doing it was incongruous with what the Mets had said about their shortstop only 24 hours earlier.

After Reyes was scratched from Thursday's game, he said he was banned from any activity until the pain in his right side disappeared. When asked Friday how he was feeling, Reyes replied, "About the same." Nevertheless, he was allowed to hit both indoors and on the field with his teammates.

Why the switch in plans? Apparently the prognosis had changed.

"I think what they wanted him to do was do an activity today of some sort," Manuel said. "Just one activity, and the activity that he wanted to do was swing. He could have taken ground balls and threw, but he wanted to swing. That was the thing that would determine where he was and what he could do. I think he felt pretty good after that."

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