First still the worst for Bartolo Colon

NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colon has been pitching in the major leagues for 17 years. He knows how to make it through the first inning.

So what the heck has been going on for the past month?

Colon's career ERA in the first inning is 3.80, which is actually better than his overall career ERA (3.95).

Fine, but Colon's first-inning ERA over his past five starts is 19.80. What makes it especially puzzling is that Colon's ERA after the first inning in those same five starts is 1.13.

So yeah, there's something going on here, something that the New York Mets aren't ignoring, especially after two first-inning runs cost Colon again in a 3-1 Thursday night loss to the Atlanta Braves.

The Mets had Colon throw longer than normal in the bullpen before this one. Colon said it helped -- except that he went out to the mound and allowed a single to Andrelton Simmons, a double to Freddie Freeman and a single to Jason Heyward.

Just like that, two runs. Just like that, a deficit that the Mets never did overcome, ending their chances at a four-game sweep of the Braves.

"I don't know what it is," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We certainly have searched and searched and searched and haven't fixed it. We'll keep working."

Freeman's first-inning double was the only extra-base hit that Colon allowed in eight innings Thursday. He allowed the Braves just one run and seven hits in seven innings after the first.

"Eight innings, three runs, if you want to look at it as a whole, he did a great job," catcher Travis d'Arnaud said.

That's true, and if the Mets had kept hitting the way they had earlier in the week, perhaps we wouldn't be writing about this right now. But with a 19.80 ERA in the first and a 1.13 ERA after the first (and with 18 first-inning runs for the season, the second-most in the majors), the Mets themselves would still be working to figure out what's wrong.

"I just know that in the first inning, he threw more pitches over the heart of the plate," d'Arnaud said. "After that, he threw more pitches on the edges of the plate."

Colon lowered his ERA for the season to 3.99. He has pitched well enough that if the Mets want to trade him, they would likely find teams interested (although it didn't appear there were any scouts at Citi Field who were specifically there to watch him).

For now, though, the Mets are still holding to the idea that they can force their way back into contention, even though they're eight games under .500 and eight games behind both the Braves and the Washington Nationals.

Colon hasn't been the problem. But Colon's recent first-inning performances haven't helped.