MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Colon helping Mets soothe starting woes

Veteran righty remains reliable as club looks to overcome injuries

Colon helping Mets soothe starting woes

NEW YORK -- As it turns out, the $7.25 million contract the Mets inked to bring back free agent Bartolo Colon has proven to be the best money they spent this past offseason.

With injuries to fellow starters Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler and Jonathon Niese, plus the problems facing Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, it's hard to figure where the Mets would be without the big 43-year-old right-hander.

"No question about it," Mets manager Terry Collins said before his club defeated the Marlins, 5-2, at Citi Field on Wednesday night. "He's absolutely gone out there with the quality innings. I mean, the wins are great. But it's the quality innings he delivers every time he goes out there that not only saves the starting pitchers, but it saves the relievers, too."

Collins on Johnson in 5-2 win

Colon gave the Mets seven strong innings of two-run ball, and he kept them in the game long enough to beat the Marlins for the third game in a row.

"That what he does," Collins said afterward. "I went down to talk to him after the sixth, and I asked if he had one more inning, and he said, 'Fine.' He just goes out and does his job. As we've said so many times the last two weeks, with all of our pitching issues, he's the one constant."

Even with the plethora of injuries that has infected the Mets, at 69-64, they are right there in the hunt for the National League's second Wild Card berth with 29 games to go.

Not only have the injuries affected the mound staff, but they've lost a first baseman, a third baseman and now even their second baseman with the revelation after the game that Neil Walker will miss the rest of the season to have surgery on a herniated disk.

Collins on Walker's injury

The starting rotation is an area Collins is delicately navigating. He had hoped to give the fatigued deGrom 10 days off between starts and had the right-hander slated to pitch on Saturday night against the Nationals.

Matz, who was slated to start Thursday night against the Marlins, then reported continued soreness in his left shoulder.

deGrom was moved up two days to face Miami, giving him two days' less rest. Matz is now out indefinitely. And the rotation for this weekend's critical three-game series against NL East-leading Washington is now Syndergaard followed by youngsters Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, who just pitched well on Tuesday night in a victory over the Marlins.

Lugo picks up the win

"We're lucky to have those kind of guys, those kind of quality arms to run out there," Collins said. "The only way you're going to learn how to do this is to be in it. And we plan on being it for a long time."

When asked when Matz might pitch again, Collins said: "I haven't the faintest idea. He's got stiffness in his shoulder that's not going away. Right now, he's going to continue the rehab for a couple of days. We do not know what period of time it's going to take. He's going to keep playing catch a little bit to see if it loosens up. Right now we have no plans to start him in the near future."

Harvey and Niese are already out for the season. Syndergaard has pitched through a problematic right elbow. Wheeler never really got started in his recovery from last year's Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He was shut down on Aug. 17 with a flexor strain in the same elbow.

Add season-ending injuries to Lucas Duda, David Wright, Juan Lagares and now Walker, and the picture for a stretch run is not very pretty.

With rosters expanding on Thursday from 25 to 40, Collins sounded optimistic, even though there's not that much help coming.

"We're playing pretty good," Collins said. "Certainly [Thursday] we'll get some more reinforcements to give us a little more strength off the bench and in the bullpen. Our lineup is playing good and the object is to keep them out there. We like the way things are going right now. We're playing good teams and playing them well. So we're very optimistic that we can continue this."

Colon's brilliant outing

That's why what Colon is doing is so important. No question he's durable, and as he proved last year during the postseason, he can adjust to a key relief role. This season, Colon leads the rotation with 27 starts and 158 2/3 innings, averaging nearly six innings an appearance.

As Collins said, the fact is that Colon takes the ball every five days and gives the Mets enough quality innings to get them deep enough into games that it spares overuse of the bullpen. On Wednesday night, Colon left with the game tied at 2. Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia retired the last six batters, and Familia recorded a franchise-record 44th save.

Familia sets Mets' save record

But it all started with Colon. Every time he goes out there, Collins knows what he's going to get.

"That's very comforting," Collins said. "You might go three or four days when you have to burn your bullpen up. And all of a sudden, he pops up. And you say, 'You know what? He gets it.' He knows that he has to give us some length and he's never offended by it. He's done it. He'll do it. He's a tremendous team player, and it seems like every night we need one of those, he does it and he gets us deep into a game."

Certainly, Colon did it again for the Mets when they most needed it on Wednesday night.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.