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Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Hefner's stellar run continues

By Kieran Darcy

NEW YORK -- Is Jeremy Hefner better than Matt Harvey?

Believe it or not, Hefner has been over the past few weeks. He posted a 1.80 ERA in five starts in June -- a half-run better than Harvey's ERA for the month (2.31). And Hefner began July in similar fashion, allowing just one run in seven innings in the New York Mets' 9-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

 Jeremy Hefner
Jeremy Hefner posted a 1.80 ERA in five starts in June.
Martin Prado's solo homer in the top of the seventh was the only blemish on the ledger. A 101-minute rain delay in the bottom of that inning prevented Hefner from going any deeper. But the Mets tacked on seven more runs after play resumed, all but ensuring he would pick up his third win of the season.

Yes, Hefner is just 3-6, despite a 3.54 ERA. He hasn't gotten much help in terms of run support, but he says it doesn't bother him.

"That doesn't matter to me," Hefner said. "If I give a quality outing, go deep into games, I've done my job. If we score runs, then I'll get a win. If we don't, then I might get a no-decision or whatever. Just as long as the team wins, I'm happy."

Hefner, 27, was 4-7 with a 5.09 ERA in 26 appearances (13 starts) as a rookie last year. He started this season in the rotation because of the injury to Johan Santana in the spring, but the Mets lost each of his first nine starts. In mid-May, Hefner was 0-5 with a 5.00 ERA. He didn't earn his first win until May 29 against the Yankees.

His season has turned around dramatically from that point.

"He's keeping the ball in the ballpark. Early in the year he was hurt by the long ball more than anything," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He's always thrown strikes, that's never been an issue. But he was making mistakes in the zone, in the middle of the plate early. He's not anymore.

"He's pitching at the edges now, doing a much better job of changing speeds and keeping the ball out of the middle, and I think that's made a big difference for him."

Hefner also credits a physical tweak he made at the recommendation of pitching coach Dan Warthen, involving more rotation of his torso.

"Really, that's all that's changed, is a little bit of a mechanical adjustment," Hefner said. "And I think it's just created a little deception, and it's working for me right now."

Can he keep this up? Hefner thinks so.

"Yeah. I expected that even before," Hefner said. "Even last year I expected myself to go deep into games, to give quality outings."

In truth, that remains to be seen. Hefner is not Matt Harvey. He only throws in the low 90s. And he has just 65 strikeouts, less than half Harvey's league-leading total of 132.

His margin for error is far slimmer.

But right now, like Harvey, he's giving the Mets a great chance to win every time out right now. And that's all the Mets can ask for from their fifth starter.

The manager's expectations are realistic, and appropriate.

"I expect him to really compete," Collins said. "I think that's what we're coming to expect from Hef. He's gonna give us a great effort, and he's gonna keep us in the game."