Mets walk away with win behind Hefner

Mets walk away with win behind Hefner

Mets walk away with win behind Hefner
SAN DIEGO -- Jeremy Hefner entered Saturday's game knowing it was his last as a member of the starting rotation. He left knowing it was also his best.

Hefner held the Padres to one run over six innings, Daniel Murphy and Mike Baxter reached base five times apiece, and the Mets rebounded from Friday's loss with a 6-2 victory at Petco Park.

It was easily Hefner's strongest performance in a three-start tour of the rotation, but with Johan Santana due back from the disabled list next Saturday in New York, Hefner will return to the bullpen. He was 1-1 as a starter with a 3.57 ERA, 14 strikeouts and five walks.

"Johan's a way better pitcher than I am," Hefner said. "We'll see what happens, but I just try to go out and give 100 percent."

Backing Hefner with a four-run outburst in the second inning, the Mets twice drew bases-loaded walks against Padres starter Edinson Volquez, who walked four in the inning -- including Baxter, who tied a National League record and set a franchise mark with five free passes in a nine-inning game. Jordany Valdespin eventually chased Volquez with two outs in the inning, driving in a pair with a double.

San Diego's relief corps proved to be everything that Volquez was not, combining for 4 1/3 shutout innings after the righty left. But that group finally cracked when Josh Thole drove home Murphy with a seventh-inning groundout and Ike Davis' single plated Ruben Tejada in the eighth.

"It was a little bit of a funky game for us," Murphy said. "But [Hefner] did a great job of bearing down and continuing to give us a chance, give us a chance to extend the lead."

Baxter and Murphy were the only Mets to reach base consistently in the middle innings, with Murphy finishing 4-for-4 with a walk and Baxter becoming the first Major Leaguer to walk five times in a game since Mark Teixeira pulled the trick in 2009. The only other Mets player to achieve the feat, Vince Coleman, needed a 16-inning game to do it in 1992.

In his first game back from a minor wrist injury, Murphy also scored two runs. Baxter, a former Padres outfielder, crossed home plate once. Things grew slightly hairy in the ninth, when Bobby Parnell served up Chase Headley's leadoff homer and put two more runners on base. But closer Frank Francisco relieved, making his first appearance since returning from the disabled list, and induced a game-ending double play.

"I didn't sleep all those days," Francisco joked of his five-week stay on the DL. "I slept one day, I got a save in Double-A. It made me feel better."

Barring injury, the Mets should not need a sixth starting pitcher anytime soon -- especially considering they seem more interested in bringing knuckleballer R.A. Dickey back on short rest than proceeding even temporarily with a six-man rotation. But should the need arise -- and it often does -- Hefner has at least established his reputation as a reliable spot starter. For the Mets, he is a human insurance policy.

"No question about it, if we need a start he's got it," manager Terry Collins said. "If you wanted to stick an extra guy in there, he could, and he would be the candidate for sure. We're just waiting to see how things work out with Johan. ... So we've got a lot of options. But Jeremy has pitched very well."

"I hope he knows that I can compete and that I'm going to give I'm 100 percent every time," Hefner said of Collins. "Regardless of what happens with Johan coming off the DL, I'm here for the team."

Padres manager Bud Black, who knew Hefner from his days with the Padres organization, lauded Hefner's changeup in particular, saying the hitters "couldn't stay back enough to put good swings on those changeups."

"To his credit," Black said, "anytime a pitcher can offspeed you when he's behind in the count, it's pretty good."

And pretty good was good enough for the Mets, who now consider Hefner a valuable roster piece.

"I've worked really hard to get to where I'm at now, not just this year but in my entire career," Hefner said. "I think it's just all my hard work, it's kind of paying off a little bit."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.