The Mets ace take the mound Tuesday against the Washington Nationals to open a three-game series at Nationals Park.
The Mets (62-56) have one of the worst bullpens in the NL, with their relievers posting a 4.33 ERA. The relief pitchers have been even worse in the last 14 games, going 2-5 with a 6.99 ERA and surrendering nine home runs over that span. New York is 5-9 in those contests.
The absence of closer Billy Wagner, who went on the disabled list last Tuesday with a strained left forearm, has put added pressure on the team’s beleaguered relievers.
Santana (9-7, 2.85 ERA) knows all about his team’s bullpen problems. Mets relievers have blown leads in six of his starts this season, including two straight and three of his last four.
The disastrous relief pitching hasn’t been limited to days when Santana pitches. On Monday, Pedro Martinez turned over a four-run lead in the seventh inning to the bullpen, only to have five relievers combine to give up six runs as the Mets lost 7-5 to Pittsburgh.
Manager Jerry Manuel appears ready to make changes.
“We can’t continue to perform this way late in the game,” he said. “We have to make some adjustments. I have to figure out what I have and who is willing to step up in those roles.”
Manuel will at least have his ace on the mound as the Mets try to keep pace with Philadelphia and Florida in the NL East. Santana is 2-0 with a 2.47 ERA in his last seven starts and has a 2.03 ERA in his last two outings, striking out 10 in 13 1-3 innings. The bullpen, though, gave up four runs in 5 2-3 innings as it blew leads in both games.
“If you guys think this bullpen is bad, go follow some other teams around and see what you come up with,” said Mets reliever Scott Schoeneweis, who has a 7.50 ERA in his last nine appearances.
The Mets hope a series against the lowly Nationals (44-75), owners of the worst record in baseball, can provide some relief for Santana. He beat them April 23, yielding two runs and seven hits in seven innings of a 7-2 win, and is 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in three starts against the Washington franchise.
While New York has won 20 of its last 25 games in the nation’s capital, it’s dropped four of its last five versus the Nationals overall.
Washington will be looking to avoid a fifth consecutive loss after being swept in a four-game series at Milwaukee, during which it was outscored 23-5. The Nationals managed six hits in Monday’s 7-1 defeat at Milwaukee.
“We just got swept by a better team,” Nats manager Manny Acta said. “They flat-out outplayed us.”
The Nationals will hand the ball to Odalis Perez (5-8, 4.10), who will be trying to win his third straight start. The left-hander has posted a 2.03 ERA in his last two outings, allowing two runs and six hits in six innings of a 6-3 victory Thursday as Washington completed a doubleheader sweep at Colorado.
Perez is 1-1 with a 4.38 ERA in two starts versus New York this year.