WASHINGTON -- As poor as the Mets' bullpen has fared this season, Jon Rauch is becoming a much-needed constant late in games.

Over his last 20 appearances, the veteran right-hander has allowed just one run on five hits in 14 1/3 innings, good for a 0.63 ERA. Rauch earned his third save of the season in Thursday's 8-4 win over the Reds, putting him behind Frank Francisco (19) and Bobby Parnell (4) in the Mets' bullpen, which has the worst ERA (5.10) in the Majors.

"Well, he's always throwing strikes," manager Terry Collins said of Rauch. "All year long, he's been throwing strikes. He went through that streak where he gave up some home runs, it happens. And then his elbow flared up a little bit, and I think since we rested him, he's pitched a little bit more consistently."

All three of the home runs Rauch has allowed this season came in June, when he allowed eight runs (four earned) over eight innings for a 4.50 ERA. While feeling some elbow tenderness, Rauch skipped the Mets' three-game series at the Nationals from June 5-7.

"He went through a stretch where he went some days where he didn't pitch, and then all of a sudden he'd go three or four days where he did pitch," Collins said. "Now, he's been in on a lot more consistent basis, and not with a lot of work, too. You look at his outings, they are seven, eight pitches. Six pitches. [Thursday] night, three pitches. So I think he's staying strong."

Francisco, meanwhile, has struggled recently with inconsistency despite his team-high save total. Twice this past week, poor outings from the right-hander have forced Rauch to enter for one-out saves. Thursday night, Francisco entered in the ninth inning following a brilliant outing from Matt Harvey. Leading, 8-1, Francisco surrendered three runs on four hits and a walk, throwing 27 pitches before Rauch came into save the game with three pitches of his own. Against the Braves on Aug. 12, Francisco surrendered a run on a hit and two walks without getting an out in a 6-5 win.

Collins attributed Francisco's struggles to the inconsistent manner in which he's been used, noting that Francisco's outings this month have come on four days' rest three times, and once on three days' rest.

As a result, Francisco was only available for a save situation Friday night as the Mets opened a three-game series at the Nationals.

"That's not his fault, the fact that we he haven't had save opportunities to get him in there to get him some consistency," Collins said. "Just to run him out there tonight to get him back-to-back outings would probably mean we wouldn't have him tomorrow."

Mets happy to have veteran Shoppach on board

WASHIGNTON -- Kelly Shoppach's Mets debut ended in an 0-for-3 night at the plate for the newly acquired catcher, but his two runs scored helped boost New York to an 8-4 win over the Reds on Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, Shoppach helped 23-year-old right-hander Matt Harvey to the best outing of his rookie season. Harvey threw 7 2/3 innings with Shoppach behind the plate, allowing just one run on four hits with eight strikeouts and one walk.

"Matt let Kelly use his experience," manager Terry Collins said. "He's caught similar guys to Matt before. I thought Kelly did a nice job."

The Mets acquired Shoppach to catch when the opponents have a left-handed pitcher on the mound, as the 32-year-old catcher holds a .270 average against southapaws, with 31 home runs in 492 at-bats in his career. On the season, Shoppach is batting .245 with five home runs and 17 RBIs overall.

Josh Thole, the other catcher on the Mets' active roster, is batting .259 with one homer and 18 RBIs.

Worth noting

• Ruben Tejada entered Friday with a 15-game road hitting streak. Tejada had also recorded at least one hit in 19 of his last 20 road games, including 10 multihit outings in that stretch.

• David Wright entered the series opener in Washington one home run away from joining Darryl Strawberry (252) and Mike Piazza (220) as the only Mets with 200 homers.