More Hartburn for not-so-perfect Mets

MILWAUKEE -- Call Saturday's Mets-Brewers meeting the imperfect game. Or whatever you would label the opposite of what Roy Halladay did to the Florida Marlins in Miami, in a game that started at the identical time and finished 75 minutes later than the 20th perfect game in major league history.

How ugly was the Mets' 8-6 loss?

Well, Mets manager Jerry Manuel hoped to get Fernando Nieve up to 80 pitches in the right-hander's first start of the season, as a fill-in for injured left-hander Jon Niese.

Nieve ultimately got to just 62 pitches -- 46 of which he threw in the first inning. He served up a grand slam that frame to Corey Hart, who had ended the Mets pitching staff's 35-inning scoreless streak a night earlier with a walk-off two-run homer against reliever Ryota Igarashi.

"I definitely had some concerns, but I felt he deserved an opportunity to start," Manuel said about Nieve. "I thought this would have been a good matchup for him ... with a right-handed pitcher, keeping the ball away from them. But he couldn't command the strike zone, and that becomes an issue."

Starting with the longball served up by Igarashi on Friday night, Mets pitchers started a streak of five innings in which they surrendered a run.

Nieve, who had tossed no more than 39 pitches in any other appearance this season, was pulled after two innings, having allowed five runs on three hits and three walks, including long balls to Hart and George Kottaras.

Oliver Perez fared little better. Relegated to mop-up duty after his refusal to go to the minors, Perez entered in the third inning in his first game action in eight days.

Perez surrendered a two-run homer to Hart in his first inning of work, as Hart became the first player to go deep in three straight plate appearances against the Mets since Arizona's Mark Reynolds last Aug. 1-3, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Perez clearly missed an opportunity to take a small step toward establishing some sort of actual role on the pitching staff.

"When you're down there and getting limited opportunities, you have to take advantage of them," Manuel said. "You really have to take advantage of them to get another opportunity. So it becomes tough on him and it becomes tough on the team to function and operate in that manner. Hopefully the next time he gets the opportunity he'll do a little better."

Said Perez: "In the first inning I was not feeling like in the second inning. That's one of those times you have to get used to and get ready for those situations."

Still, the Mets remained in the game, despite putrid pitching and twice leaving the bases loaded -- in the third inning when pinch hitter Gary Matthews Jr. struck out and in the fifth when Jason Bay grounded out to second base.

Jose Reyes reached base in each of his first four plate appearances, scoring twice and picking up a steal and an RBI. Ike Davis' three-run homer in the fourth had pulled the Mets as close as 7-6.

The ugliness resurfaced, though.

In Reyes' fourth plate appearance, he reached despite striking out, because of a wild pitch, which also advanced Jeff Francoeur to third base. Despite two outs, Luis Castillo bunted. He thought it wasn't in play, because he slowed a third of the way down the first-base line. But Kottaras, the catcher, had fumbled the ball in fair territory. Castillo restarted his engine and loaded the bases by reaching on an error -- setting up Bay's inning-ending groundout that left the Mets in an 8-6 hole.

The Mets, who wore New York Cubans uniforms in a tribute to the Negro Leagues, dropped to .500 with their second straight defeat at Miller Park. They will need a solid performance from knuckleballer R.A. Dickey on Sunday to avoid their first sweep in Milwaukee since 2001.

The Brewers entered the series with the worst home record in the majors: 6-15. Now, the Mets will enter June without having won a road series this season.

"I still see some fight in the team," Manuel said.

The good news: The Mets won't need another start from Nieve. Niese is scheduled to make a rehab start for Triple-A Buffalo on Monday. He then should reenter the rotation five days after that, against the Marlins at Citi Field.

"I tried to get a quick early inning to have at least four or five innings," Nieve said, acknowledging his pitch-count limitations. "It was my first shot as a starter. I think I was thinking too much to do good.

"I've been using only a fastball and slider, and sometimes a changeup. Today I started to use my curveball. It was OK, but it wasn't sharp enough for a start. But I think that wasn't the problem. The problem was I was behind on too many hitters. I was walking those guys. I think I have to start working on that."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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