NEW YORK -- Yet another brief starting pitching performance Saturday left the Mets desperately searching for healthy bullpen arms.
The Mets plan to call up a reliever prior to Sunday's series finale against the Pirates, after Jon Niese became their second consecutive starter to last fewer than five innings. New York's starting pitchers have averaged exactly five innings per start since Matt Harvey went nine in a game last Tuesday.
"It's a pretty big problem with our bullpen shot," manager Terry Collins said. "It's created a major issue for us."
Right-hander Jeurys Familia was unavailable Saturday for the third straight game, leaving Collins with a shorthanded bullpen -- so shorthanded that he used Scott Atchison in the middle innings of the game, despite a pregame vow to avoid the right-hander.
Collins classified Familia as "still day to day" with a bout of right biceps tendinitis, though there is a good chance he will land on the disabled list to make room for the incoming reliever -- likely submariner Greg Burke, who broke camp with the team but struggled in April.
"We're trying to make sure we don't ruin our bullpen before we get to June," Collins said. "That's why, to be honest, it's important that our starters get us a little deeper. When you're short a guy in the 'pen like Familia, you can wear some of those other guys out. Now when you really need them, they're not 100 percent."
The Mets initially believed former closer Frank Francisco could have been a solution, but Francisco did not throw his routine bullpen session Saturday as scheduled. There is no timetable on when Francisco, who has been nursing inflammation in his surgically-repaired right elbow since mid-February, may be ready to rejoin the Mets.
Valdespin's 'flair' brings retaliation from Bucs
NEW YORK -- The retaliation came swiftly Saturday afternoon, in the seventh inning of another blowout. A day after Jordany Valdespin flipped his bat and stared a little too long at his solo home run in a five-run game, the Pirates took offense.
Understanding the chance of retaliation, Mets manager Terry Collins inserted Valdespin into the game as a pinch-hitter. The rest of the plot took little time to unfold -- Pirates reliever Bryan Morris threw one pitch in the dirt, before drilling Valdespin in the right forearm with a 94-mph offering.
Lesson learned, as far as Collins is concerned.
"He plays with a little excitement and a little flair, and once in a while somebody's going to be a little disturbed by it," Collins said. "If nothing else, he grew by it. And that's the most beneficial thing that could have happened."
Yet at least initially, Valdespin seemed angry. He walked slowly to first base after the plunking, slamming down his helmet upon returning to the dugout. None of Valdespin's teammates acknowledged him at first, while Morris received high fives and back slaps in the opposite dugout.
Mets captain David Wright guessed that Valdespin's anger stemmed from the simple fact that the plunking likely hurt. Though Valdespin declined to comment after the game, ignoring reporters on his way out of the ballpark, both Wright and Collins said he understood the retribution.
"He doesn't need to change the person that he is," Wright said. "I think that toning some of it down might be appropriate, but he gets excited. And his way of showing that he's excited might be different than mine and a lot of other people's. I think sometimes there's criticism that's fair, and a lot of times also there's a lot of criticism that's unfair because he has a history of doing some things."
That history includes irking coaches and teammates with various antics throughout his Minor League career, as well as several well-publicized episodes in the Majors last summer. The Mets have talked to Valdespin about those issues countless times, but Saturday marked the first time an opposing team clearly sought retribution.
"That is baseball," first baseman Ike Davis said. "Some people take offense to it and some people don't."
Valdespin, for his part, offered no remorse after showboating Friday's home run, saying that "every time I hit the ball for a homer, you have to enjoy it."
"Like I said in Spring Training, I'm here to enjoy and play the game the right way," Valdespin said. "That's what I can do every day. Every hit I enjoy, my family enjoys, my friends enjoy."
Following Saturday's retribution, he may not be enjoying it quite so much.
"You know what you're getting in Jordany, and that's a very talented player who has obviously a knack for getting those big hits," Wright said. "He sometimes shows that charisma and flair, and that upsets some people. Whether you think it was right or wrong, it is what it is. I'm sure Jordany understands that also."
Mets fans' spirit shows during Banner Day
NEW YORK -- From start to finish, the banner took a week to complete.
Tim Betts of Farmingdale, N.Y., sketched the outline, which included drawings of Shea Stadium, Citi Field and the Home Run Apple that has found a home in both. Kelly Betts did the painting, vibrant colors of blue and red.
Those two joined Denise Betts, who rigged the apple for movement, and Rebecca Waddington, of Rockville, Md., in showing off their winning banner Saturday at Citi Field.
"We did Banner Day last year," Kelly Betts said. "We were excited for it to come back, because it was something we enjoyed as kids. We felt last year that we didn't quite get the attention, so we wanted to make sure that we did something this year to get attention."
"We wanted to stand out," said Denise.
For their effort, the foursome received seats to a future game at Citi Field complete with scoreboard recognition, invitations to watch batting practice on the field, and an autographed Matt Harvey jersey.
The Mets resurrected Banner Day, an old Shea Stadium tradition, last summer, inviting fans to decorate signs with messages of team spirit.
Sore knee doesn't keep Wright from starting
NEW YORK -- As promised, David Wright was back in the Mets' starting lineup on Saturday, half a day after fouling a ball off the inside of his left knee. Though Wright admitted that he expected to be sore from the play, it was not nearly enough to keep him out of the lineup.
"You can't foul it off like that off the inside of your knee without being stiff," manager Terry Collins said. "I'm sure he'll be stiff but he plays through a lot, so he'll be OK."
Wright played seven more innings after fouling a Wandy Rodriguez pitch off his knee on Friday evening, finally departing in a five-run game in the ninth. He is one of three players to appear in all 33 of the Mets' games this season.
Wright entered Saturday's play with a .306 average, five home runs, 23 RBIs and six stolen bases. His .976 OPS ranked eighth in the National League.