PITTSBURGH -- Nine times this season, Johan Santana has taken the mound for the Mets. Seven times, he has delivered a quality start, narrowly missing one Monday. But just once has Santana scored a win, taking two losses and six no-decisions.
Chalk that up to luck and a lack of run support, in addition to the fact that Santana has completed seven innings just once -- not coincidentally, in his only victory.
"I've been getting better and feeling better every time I'm out there," Santana said. "We still have some way to go, and I've just got to continue improving and getting better and getting a feeling for it. I still feel that I have some work to do with my command, especially with my fastball."
The Mets are thrilled simply that Santana is continuing to take the ball every five days, even if he has not been entirely dominant. With so many questions surrounding Santana's surgically repaired left shoulder coming into this season, the Mets can hardly afford to nitpick his performances.
"We haven't won the games that we'd like to have won, but we're capitalizing, make no mistake," manager Terry Collins said. "He's getting us deep into games. He keeps us where we want to. We have a chance to win games, and he's doing his job. He's doing his job very, very effectively."
Torres sits, Baxter leads off for Mets
PITTSBURGH -- One byproduct of Ike Davis' season-long slump is that it has masked Andres Torres' struggles at the plate. The Mets center fielder received a day off Tuesday, largely because he is batting .053 over his last 11 games, a span of 49 plate appearances.
"To be honest, I haven't done what I'm supposed to do," Torres said. "This game, you have to get it done. I feel bad that I haven't performed like I've wanted. But I'm here, and I have to find a way to get on base."
"A little bit of over-swinging," was how Collins classified the slump. "He's done a good job of getting himself deep in some good counts. He's just not getting the results."
For Torres, that means little more than simply relaxing at the plate. Neither Torres nor his manager believes he is doing anything wrong mechanically, even if the results have not come.
"I'm here," Torres said. "I just have to stay positive and try to figure out something."
With Torres on the bench, Kirk Nieuwenhuis started in center field Tuesday. But it was Mike Baxter who led off, doing so for the first time since his Minor League days in 2010.
"I'll take it," said Baxter, who has started in the outfield three times over the Mets' last four games. "I'll take whatever I can get."
Part of Collins' reasoning centered around a desire to play Baxter the night after he committed a critical miscue on defense, nearly colliding with Nieuwenhuis on a play that led to a game-changing three-base error. Rather than shun Baxter the day after his mistake, Collins chose to embrace him.
"You've got to get past that," the manager said. "That's what you have to do at this level. You can't let it linger. You've got to go out and learn from your mistakes."
Effort to cut down K's elevating Wright's game
PITTSBURGH -- The one knock on David Wright throughout his career has been the third baseman's propensity for striking out. Wright whiffed 161 times in 2010, or roughly once every four plate appearances. It had begun affecting his overall offensive profile to a damaging extent.
Now, Wright has managed to avoid gaudy strikeout totals by cutting down his swing with two strikes, punching balls to the opposite field with regularity. A perfect example came Monday in Pittsburgh, when Wright stayed back on Erik Bedard's two-strike curveball in the second inning, serving it into right for a single.
"I just know that with two strikes, he's locked in to try to go the other way," manager Terry Collins said. "They've got to make good pitches on him, and sometimes they have. But for the most part, he's put a pretty good swing on the ball with two strikes."
The results have been staggering. Wright's .415 batting average entering Tuesday's play was the fourth-highest mark through this point of an MLB season since 1980, trailing only Paul O'Neill in 1994, Rod Carew in '83 and Barry Bonds in '93.
Couple that with a strikeout rate that has dropped nearly eight percentage points from last season, and Wright's average could hover at elite levels for much of this summer.
"He's got the physical attributes it takes to chase that mark," Collins said of hitting over .400. "He's strong. Not only can he hit the ball out of the ballpark, but he'll take singles. He can run, so the choppers in the hole, he can beat some of those out. There are a lot of positives."
Shortstop Ruben Tejada collected four hits in an extended spring game Tuesday, according to manager Terry Collins. Tejada, who has been on the disabled list since May 7 with a strained right calf, could return to the Mets as soon as this weekend.
Backup catcher Rob Johnson is still feeling the effects of the jammed right thumb that he suffered two weekends ago in Miami, saying that "when it happened, I felt that my thumb snapped off." But Johnson insisted he is well enough to catch Wednesday, should Collins start him behind the plate as expected.