Mets' rotation appears in need of rescue

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Left-hander Oliver Perez begins a rehab assignment Wednesday with Class A St. Lucie.

So rejoice, Mets fans. Help is, in fact, on the way for the rotation.

And, until then, the Mets' Florida State League team will be stacked as Carlos Beltran teams with Perez in the minors.

"Yeah, we are going to have a good team down there," general manager Omar Minaya said with a laugh Tuesday before the Mets lost to the Florida Marlins 7-6 on a walk-off RBI single by Dan Uggla, after New York scored two runs in the top of the ninth to even the score at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

After another feel-good homestand -- this one including series wins against American League Central front-runners Minnesota and Detroit -- the Mets have fallen flat in Puerto Rico.

First, R.A. Dickey had his shortest major league outing of the season in Monday's opener against the Marlins, and his six-game winning streak to open his Mets career came to an end.

Then, Tuesday night, the other cog inserted in the rotation after John Maine and Perez went down stumbled, too.

Actually, more like collapsed with a thud in the third inning.

After retiring the first eight Marlins batters, Hisanori Takahashi was battered for six runs with two outs in the third. Hanley Ramirez belted a grand slam, and Uggla delivered a two-run homer during a stretch in which seven straight Marlins reached base.

With manager Jerry Manuel not wanting to overuse a six-man bullpen that allows him to carry three catchers, Takahashi did keep the Marlins from scoring any additional runs until departing with two outs in the sixth with two runners in scoring position. Reliever Elmer Dessens then retired Gaby Sanchez on a shallow fly out to center to hold the Mets' deficit at 6-3.

"I thought he was missing location," Manuel said about the six-run inning against Takahashi. "He retired the first eight hitters. And then he goes 3-1 against the [opposing] pitcher [Nate Robertson] with balls off the plate, which is somewhat uncharacteristic for him. … It was six pretty quick runs, especially after he had seemed to dominate those first eight hitters in the lineup.

"What's happening is that he's not getting to the inside part of the plate. He's not [soft-tossing Phillies left-hander] Jamie Moyer. But when Jamie Moyer pitches, he has to pitch inside. And that's what Taka has to do. He has to establish inside in order for him to get those pitches away. But if he leaves his ball over the middle of the plate, then he's going to get hit."

Said Takahashi through an interpreter: "I think Jerry's right. It's kind of my pitching style -- fastball inside, then the changeup away. I didn't do well in the third inning."

It's more likely the Mets need an outside acquisition, rather than Perez, for the rotation -- although either would allow Takahashi to return to the bullpen.

At least on Wednesday the Mets' brass can get a look at Perez's revised mechanics in a minor league game, to see whether the tutoring during the past few weeks has resonated at all. Perez, who is now roughly at the midpoint of a three-year, $36 million deal, is scripted to throw 90 pitches for the St. Lucie Mets.

A team official insisted Perez is not preordained to return to the rotation -- the best five starting pitchers will be used.

Dickey and Takahashi could force the issue and test whether that statement is true, but Takahashi in particular did not do his part Tuesday. He also allowed six runs in his previous outing, in the Mets' lone loss against the Tigers at Citi Field, when the 35-year-old Japanese rookie was pulled after throwing 92 pitches in four innings.

"I don't think it's got to be a situation where a guy, every outing they go out there, they have to feel that they're being evaluated," Minaya said about Takahashi's erratic performances, which also include three scoreless outings among his eight starts. "I think it's fair to say that we've seen enough quality in certain periods. We believe in giving these guys an opportunity. How much that opportunity is? It's not one of those that if he doesn't pitch good on a specific day, we're going to make changes. I think you have to let these guys pitch. They'll have good ones. They'll have bad ones."

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

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