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SD@SF: Bumgarner hurls seven strong frames vs. Padres

The Giants entered their weekend series with the rival Dodgers holding a three-game lead in the National League West.

That advantage disappeared with a Los Angeles sweep that leaves San Francisco scrambling to recover as it welcomes the Mets to AT&T Park for a four-game set. The good news for the Giants heading into Monday night's opener is that the Mets have been mired in a much worse skid, dropping 14 of their past 17.

New York has started its 11-game road trip through the NL West at 2-2 and will send Jeremy Hefner to the mound against San Francisco and Madison Bumgarner. Hefner is 1-4 with a 5.40 ERA overall, and the rookie right-hander has posted a 5.82 mark in four starts, despite a 17-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

A rotation fill-in while Johan Santana is on the disabled list, Hefner took the loss Wednesday against the Nationals, but manager Terry Collins said the 26-year-old "pitched very, very well." Hefner struck out seven and walked two over six innings, giving up two earned runs on six hits.

Bumgarner (11-6, 3.10 ERA) has dominated at AT&T Park this season, going 7-1 with a 1.89 ERA. He also has been rolling in three starts since the All-Star break, with a 2.14 ERA, 22 strikeouts and four walks in 21 innings.

The lefty racked up nine punchouts and held the Padres to two runs in seven innings Tuesday, despite apparently not feeling at his best.

"I was behind a lot. That was probably the least amount of fastballs I've ever thrown in a game, ever," Bumgarner said. "My command was a little off."

Mets: Baxter to join team in San Francisco
Outfielder Mike Baxter has been on the disabled list since June 2, a day after he displaced his right collarbone while saving Santana's no-hitter with a leaping catch. But he is set to make his return Monday, with the Mets clearing roster space by optioning Kirk Nieuwenhuis to Triple-A Buffalo after Sunday's game.

Baxter has batted .327 in 13 Minor League rehab games before being held out of Triple-A Buffalo's lineup Sunday. The left-handed hitter posted a .323 average in 65 big league games before his injury and could take some of Jason Bay's playing time in left field, possibly as part of a platoon. Bay has gone 22 consecutive at-bats without a hit.

But considering the struggles some Mets players have faced this year upon returning from rehab assignments, Collins said before Sunday's game that he probably will ease Baxter into the lineup.

"That's the $64,000 question," Collins said. "We brought Josh Thole up, he got off to a rough start. We brought Jason Bay back, he's off to a rough start. How many times do you jump on the same merry-go-round?"

Giants: Searching for offense
San Francisco has scored three runs or fewer in five straight games and six of seven, including back-to-back shutouts, and is dealing with the loss of third baseman Pablo Sandoval to the DL.

Manager Bruce Bochy talked to his club about picking up the pace offensively before Sunday's 4-0 loss to the Dodgers. In particular, the Giants are looking for a boost from outfielders Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan.

Blanco was hitting .216 since June 1 before Sunday, when he got only his second start in the last eight games and went 1-for-3 with a walk. Pagan batted fifth in the game and went 1-for-4, making him 7-for-38 (.184) in his last 10 games.

"I think they know what's at stake from here on out," Bochy said prior to the game. "We're quiet with the bats right now. We have to get those going to take the pressure off these pitchers."

Worth noting
• This series will be the teams' last meeting of the regular season. The Giants took three of four from the Mets in New York in April.

• During a doubleheader on April 23 at Citi Field, Hefner made his Major League debut with three scoreless relief innings in the first game, while Bumgarner won the second game by holding the Mets to one run over seven.

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