Mets morning briefing 7.16.12

ATLANTA -- Johan Santana did not get a pair of third strike calls he wanted in what became a six-run fifth inning and the Mets were swept at Turner Field with a 6-1 loss Sunday.

All eyes now turn on Monday's off-day to Buffalo, where Matt Harvey will state his case while pitching for the Bisons against Triple-A Toledo at 7:05 p.m. in an SNY-televised game. Mets brass will attend to gauge whether the 2010 first-round pick is ready to make his major league debut Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field. Otherwise, the start appears poised to go to Miguel Batista.

Jason Bay also could complete a rehab assignment with Buffalo and be activated for Tuesday's series opener against Washington.

Monday's news reports:

• Pitching coach Dan Warthen purposely got himself ejected for challenging plate umpire C.B. Bucknor's strike zone during a visit to see Santana in the decisive fifth inning.

• A scout who has watched Zack Wheeler pitch twice this season said he is equipped to face major league hitters now. Still, Terry Collins was resolute Sunday in dismissing the Double-A phenom as a consideration for Saturday's start against L.A., saying Harvey is the consideration for a call-up. Read more in Newsday, the Star-Ledger and Record.

• Bay went 2-for-4 with a walk and steal and played nine innings in left field for Buffalo on Sunday. Meanwhile, Mike Baxter had a two-hit, two-RBI performance with Class A St. Lucie in his first rehab game since dislocating his right collarbone on a no-hitter-saving catch June 1 at Citi Field. Read more in Newsday.

Lucas Duda is due to get a strained left hamstring examined in New York today. Collins did not believe Duda was a DL candidate. Read more in the Post.

Chris Young, R.A. Dickey and Santana allowed five or more runs apiece as the Mets were swept out of Atlanta. Collins, whose team had ridden solid starting pitching to be six games over .500 at the All-Star break, said of the starters' consecutive struggles: "It was shocking. And I know that starting pitching will be back, because those guys are too good. ... It's just one of those things, I guess, coming out of the break, the rust and everything else that was involved. We've got to pick it up." Santana was charged with six runs in five innings. Collins said he normally would have let Santana continue anyway, because the bullpen was overtaxed in the series. But Collins opted to remove Santana at 95 pitches because he knew the southpaw needs to come back on standard rest Friday against the Dodgers at Citi Field.

Collins said specifically about Santana, despite a 5.67 ERA in seven starts since his no-hitter: "I think he's going to be just fine."

Read Sunday's game recaps in the Times, Newsday, Journal, Star-Ledger, Post, Record and Daily News.

• Columnist Joel Sherman in the Post believes the fat lady is loosening her vocal chords. Writes Sherman:

The beginning of the end looks like this: You fight the umps with as much fervor as the opponents. You get shut down by a reclamation project who has not pitched in the majors in nearly two calendar years. Your strength becomes a weakness. And your weakness remains same as it ever was. The Mets exhibited plenty of tenacity and fortitude at times of crisis in the first half. But if you think you have seen this movie before, you are correct. Everyone remembers the epic, late-season crash and burns of 2007-08 -- the beginnings of the end for the Omar Minaya administration. But over the last three seasons, 2009-11, the Mets were 136-130 (.511) in the first halves of seasons, but 90-130 (.409) in the second halves. Only Pittsburgh (.347) and Seattle (.406) have been worse in that span.

Mike Harrington in the Buffalo News discusses the Triple-A Bisons' looming decision whether to align with the Blue Jays or remain affiliated with the Mets when the current player-development agreement expires after this season. Binghamton, the Mets' Double-A affiliate, reportedly will re-up with the Mets. Harrington believes the Bisons will dump the Mets for the Jays. He does not fault the Mets entirely for plummeting attendance in Buffalo, but writes:

Since the turn of the century, numbers have continued to drop. From 9,976 per game in 2000, the figure slipped all the way to 8,027 in 2009 when the Mets fielded their disgracefully 56-87 debut team in Buffalo. The average bumped up slightly to 8,219 per game in 2010, but dipped to an all-time low of 7,784 in 2011 and the total ticket count of 521,530 was the lowest in the ballpark's 24 seasons. Things have really dropped off this year, with an average of just 6,659 per date and a ticket count of 292,997 that leaves the team in danger of not reaching a half-million. The Bisons are on pace for their lowest total since 1986 at War Memorial Stadium -- two years before they moved downtown.

While the Mets have provided some good marketing and broadcast opportunities, this is an American League town and folks don't think the Amazins tried hard enough to put a winner in here until this year, when it might have been too late.

• The Mets have a difficult task in trying to right their ship against the Nationals, who have an NL-best 51-35 record. Said David Wright about Washington: "It's not surprising to me. You just know they had so many good pieces that you knew with their starting pitching that they could go out there and dominate. And that's the name of the game -- starting pitching. They have it. Probably Nos. 1 through 5 it would be tough to put anybody in the National League up against them right now, with the way their starters are pitching, 1 through 5."

Dustin Martin had a pair of two-run triples as Binghamton beat Erie, 13-3. Read Sunday's minor league recap here.

TRIVIA: Immediately before relocating to Washington, in which city did the Montreal Expos also play regular-season games?

Sunday's answer: Joining Collins (twice) and now Warthen, Frank Francisco, D.J. Carrasco and Ike Davis are the Mets players to have been ejected this season.