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MIAMI -- A night after Oliver Perez pitched himself out of the New York Mets' rotation, right-hander John Maine stumbled, too.
Maine threw 12 straight balls to open his start Saturday night against the Florida Marlins. He tossed 40 pitches in a three-run first inning and the Mets ultimately lost 7-5 at Sun Life Stadium to slip under .500 for the first time since April 23.
"That was really shocking and surprising that he couldn't find it at that point," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "I thought the first couple of pitches were close. And then, all of a sudden, they were nowhere near the strike zone.
"It's tough to take. It puts you in a tough position because you don't want to start going to the bullpen in the very first inning, especially with the limitations we felt we had in the bullpen tonight. It's pretty tough to watch, really."
|"The first inning did me in," John Maine said.|
Those limitations were the result of Perez lasting only 3 1/3 innings in Friday's loss, requiring a heavy workload from the relief corps.
Maine was charged with six runs on seven hits while striking out five and walking five in five innings.
"For some reason, we couldn't figure it out," catcher Rod Barajas said. "We were throwing off-speed pitches to try to find his release point. We just couldn't get consistent with it. We could throw one strike, but then he'd come back with three balls. We just weren't able to make the adjustment quick enough.
"This game, when you are struggling, you have to make adjustments. And it has to be on the fly. Today that didn't happen in the first."
Said Maine: "Obviously the first inning did me in. ... I guess I was lucky to get out of there with only three runs. I don't know. It's weird. Today is one of the better days I've felt all year."
Maine's erratic first-inning control, which also included a bases-loaded walk to Dan Uggla for a four-walk inning, came out of nowhere. Pitching coach Dan Warthen told Manuel that Maine had tossed one of his best pregame bullpen sessions of the season.
Still, it wasn't exactly like Manuel was putting Maine on imminent notice afterward that his rotation spot is in jeopardy. Maine, despite his diminished velocity this season, had completed six innings in each of his previous three starts, allowing a combined seven runs (five earned).
It's not like the Mets would willfully employ a rotation with Hisanori Takahashi and, say, Triple-A pitcher R.A. Dickey or Pat Misch while Perez and Maine are healthy and assigned to other roles.
Perez will reside in the bullpen beginning Sunday. Takahashi is set to take Perez's turn in the rotation in Washington on Wednesday, a team source said.
"You hope it's one thing and it goes away," Manuel said about Maine's outing. "If something like that continues, obviously you have to address that as well. I mean, we're in the business of performing. This is the big leagues. That's what you have to do."
The Mets will need to get a solid performance from left-hander Jon Niese on Sunday to avoid being swept in a four-game series against the Marlins for the first time in six years.
At least, Manuel suggested, the offense started to show some signs of life Saturday night. David Wright homered and went 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Jose Reyes, returned to the leadoff spot, also had two hits.
"I think that's a good sign," Manuel said. "If we can continue to swing the bats in that manner, there will be some things that we can overcome.
"Are we a six-run-a-game team? Probably not. But if you keep it around three or four [as a pitcher], I think we've got enough offense to get us back in the game. And hopefully that's where we are right now with our offense. Hopefully we're with our offense where we can get four or five runs in a ballgame -- maybe not two or three."
Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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