"This time of year where you're not getting your starters deep into the game, you use [the bullpen] more than you want to for sure," Collins said.
That meant a third appearance in five games for Jerry Blevins, Rafael Montero, Hansel Robles and Josh Smoker, and a fourth for setup man Fernando Salas -- this one to bail Montero out of a ninth inning he could not escape on his own. Overall, Mets relievers have pitched 40 percent of the team's innings through five games, compiling a 4.43 ERA.
Much of the worst damage occurred Saturday, beginning in the sixth. Robles walked two batters and allowed a run. Rookie Paul Sewald, who arrived fresh from Triple-A Las Vegas to give the Mets an extra arm, allowed hits to the first three batters he faced. Montero, who made the Opening Day bullpen because of an injury to Seth Lugo, gave up two more runs to balloon his ERA to 7.71.
By the time it was finished, the Mets were trailing by seven runs, taking the teeth out of any potential comeback attempt.
"You've got to be able to make pitches," Collins said. "You've got to be able to throw your secondary pitches for strikes. You're not going to be able to pitch in the big leagues with one pitch. You can't do it."
Given the rising salaries of their pitching staff and starting lineup, the Mets did not have the budget this winter to pursue one of the three premium closers available on the open market: Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman. The club did not acquire any mid-tier improvements either, dipping into the market only to sign their own free agents, Salas and Blevins.
That left the Mets with a bullpen composed mostly of homegrown middle relievers, such as Smoker and Robles, and a back end stuffed with unknown quantities. Throw in Lugo's injury and Jeurys Familia's suspension, and the Mets now find themselves leaning heavily on players such as Josh Edgin, Montero and Sewald -- none of whom were in their immediate plans at the start of Spring Training.
So far, the formula has not produced quality results. The Mets need that to change, and fast, lest more close games turn into blowouts before their eyes.