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WSH@NYM: Hairston's homer puts the Mets on the board

NEW YORK -- Terry Collins admitted he was "grasping at straws" when he shook up his team's batting-practice schedule on Monday afternoon, eliminating some of the Mets' idle time before their game. The Mets began this week burdened with a record offensive slump. Collins aimed to end it.

But facing one of the league's best pitchers certainly played a greater role in the Mets' 5-1 loss to the Nationals than any logistical tweak. Hardly his sharpest, Gio Gonzalez combined with his bullpen in holding the Mets to three or fewer runs for the 11th straight home game, tying the franchise record set in 1966-67 and duplicated in 1979.

"I've done this long enough to know that you don't ever give up, you don't ever stop grinding it out, you don't ever stop trying to come up with a plan, you don't ever stop walking through the locker room every day making sure guys are upbeat and positive and ready to move forward," Collins said. "That hasn't changed one bit."

The Mets certainly had their chances off Gonzalez, who walked five batters in six innings at Citi Field. Two of those free passes came in the first inning, when Ronny Cedeno's double-play ball killed the rally. Two more came with two outs in the third, but David Wright's strikeout prevented the Mets from converting.

Scott Hairston finally cracked Gonzalez with a solo homer to lead off the fourth, but it was all the Mets could muster. One of R.A. Dickey's primary competitors for the NL Cy Young Award, Gonzalez pitched six innings, giving up three hits and striking out six.

"He's real good," Collins said. "He's a really, really a good pitcher, and when you don't have your best control you grind it out, and that's what he did.  He got some big double-play balls when he needed them, and it just shows you how effective he is and how good he is.  We had some opportunities, and when he had to bear down and get outs, he got them."

It was a far more productive stat line than that of Mets rookie starter Collin McHugh, who lasted just four innings for the second consecutive outing. After Kelly Shoppach dropped Kurt Suzuki's popup in foul territory, Suzuki blasted a solo homer to open the scoring in the third.

"Those are two completely separate plays," McHugh said of the error and the homer. "As a pitcher and as a professional baseball player, you've got to separate the two. There are going to be drops behind you, and there are going to errors behind you all the time, but that doesn't take away from the fact that I made a poor pitch there and he hit it well."

Four batters later, Ryan Zimmerman smashed a two-run homer to straightaway center field and the rout was on. The Nationals added two more on Ian Desmond's homer in the fourth inning, winning their 12th game in 16 tries against the Mets this season.

So for one night at least, Collins' adjustment did not work. Concerned that his starting position players were sitting idle for too long between batting practice and the start of their home games, Collins tweaked his club's batting-practice routine to try to jumpstart a stagnant offense. It was just the latest in a long string of tweaks and adjustments he has made since the Mets' season began spiraling downward after the All-Star break.

Collins made yet another change after Monday's game, announcing that Jenrry Mejia will take the place of Jeremy Hefner in the rotation. And he will continue fine-tuning whatever he can down the stretch in an attempt to win as many games as possible.

Some of those adjustments may work. Some may not. But now, more than ever, is a time to experiment.

"I still believe in them," Collins said. "The second half of the season has certainly been something we're disappointed in, but I'm still very, very positive that there's some good things we're seeing. When this season's over, we'll discuss the negative side, and we'll discuss it fast and quick, because there's a lot of positives we're going to be able to move forward with."

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