Michael Conforto and the Mets score seven runs in the first inning and never give up the lead. The Mets top the Padres 9-3.

Michael Conforto ups his season total to 13 with two homers against the Padres.

NEW YORK -- Searching for answers in a wobbly bullpen, the New York Mets optioned struggling right-hander Hansel Robles to Triple-A Las Vegas on Tuesday and recalled lefty Josh Smoker from their top farm club.

The move was a bit surprising because Robles had been a staple of New York's relief corps since he was called up in April 2015 -- and he was on an extended roll until falling apart just recently. He put together 12 consecutive scoreless outings from April 13 to May 10 before getting hit hard in his last three games, increasing his ERA from 1.42 to 6.23.

"We just thought it was time for him to go down and kind of work on a couple things," manager Terry Collins said. "Right-hand hitters hit this guy way too hard for a guy with that kind of stuff, especially from his delivery angle. So, it just tells you he's leaving stuff on the inner half of the plate and we've got to get him to get the ball away."

The 26-year-old Robles was 4-1 in 21 games but allowed four homers, 10 hits and 12 runs over 2 2/3 innings in his past three appearances. He gave up a three-run homer Sunday to Andrelton Simmons after the Mets had trimmed a nine-run deficit to four. They ended up losing 12-5 to the Los Angeles Angels for their eighth defeat in 10 games.

"The velocity's there. It's just that he's not locating his pitches," Collins said. "He's got to start making some pitches. He's been here long enough now that we should start to be able to see better command of certainly his slider or his fastball."

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On his 44th birthday take a look back at Colon's first career home run last season.

On this date: Mike Piazza makes his Mets debut in 1998

May, 23, 2017
May 23

Mike Piazza was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last summer for his vast accomplishments that spanned a 16-year career. He was just the second player to be inducted with a New York Mets cap on his plaque, joining Tom Seaver (1992).

David Seelig /AllsportMike Piazza's smile was wide upon joining the Mets.

Piazza's Mets debut came after an eventful eight days in 1998:

• On May 14, Piazza was traded from the Dodgers -- with whom he hit .331 with 177 home runs over 726 career games -- to the Marlins, along with Todd Zeile, for Manuel Barrios, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, Charles Johnson and Gary Sheffield.

• Piazza played five games for the Marlins, going 5-for-18 with no home runs and five RBIs.

• On May 22, Piazza was traded from the Marlins to the Mets for prospects Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz.

• The youngsters who attended the Brewers-Mets game the next day got a free pair of Mets shorts (the ones in the photo on the right). They also got to say they were at Piazza's Mets debut.

Sarah LangsThose attending Kids Shorts Day got a bonus ... Mike Piazza's debut!

Hitting cleanup, the catcher went 1-for-4 with an RBI double in his third at-bat. That plated the second run of the game for the Mets, who won 3-0 over the Brewers at Shea Stadium. Al Leiter, who attended Piazza’s Mets number retirement ceremony last July, threw a shutout -- the first of seven in his Mets career, all of which came with Piazza as the starting catcher.

An auspicious beginning, sure, but just why is the Hall of Famer’s career with the Mets worth recounting?

• Piazza played in 972 games for the Mets, spending seven full seasons and more than half of another with the club.

• He started 815 games behind the plate for the Mets, second in franchise history only to Jerry Grote (1,102), who spent 12 years with the Mets to Piazza’s eight.

• His .542 slugging percentage is the best by a Mets player all time.

• He hit 220 home runs with Mets, the third most in franchise history behind Darryl Strawberry (252) and David Wright (242).

• He made seven All-Star appearances with the Mets and played in the 2000 World Series as well as the 1999 postseason with the club.

• He hit at least 30 home runs in four straight seasons (1999-2002), the longest such streak in Mets history.

• His iconic home run on Sept. 21, 2001, to beat the Braves in the first game in New York after the 9/11 tragedy provided an iconic moment, the signature one of Piazza's career.

And all of that began 19 years ago today.

Tim Tebow homers for third time with Class A Fireflies

May, 21, 2017
May 21

Tim Tebow ended a five-game hitless streak with his third home run of the season Sunday in Class A Columbia's game against the West Virginia Power.

Tebow's opposite-field line drive to left-center in the fifth inning gave the Fireflies their first run in a 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate.

Tebow entered Sunday batting .220 in 34 games for the New York Mets affiliate with 26 hits, five doubles, 12 RBIs, 13 walks and 35 strikeouts.

Fireflies manager Jose Leger said earlier this month that Tebow, 29, has put in the work to improve, showing up early for extra batting practices and shagging fly balls late. He also has dealt with the throngs of fans, home and away, clamoring to say hello, take a selfie or get an autograph.

Fireflies president John Katz has said there's no timetable for Tebow's stay in South Carolina.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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The New York Mets, facing the prospect of another late-inning bullpen meltdown, actually considered giving Mike Trout the Barry Bonds treatment.

Mets manager Terry Collins acknowledged that he "absolutely" thought about intentionally walking Trout with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of Saturday's game.

The Mets entered the inning with a five-run lead, but the Angels scored two runs and faced a 7-4 deficit with Trout coming to the plate with no outs and the bases loaded.

"The first thought is, I'd almost try to walk this guy [rather] than pitch to him," Collins told reporters.

Collins opted instead to let Mets closer Addison Reed pitch to Trout, who lofted a sacrifice fly. The Mets held on for a 7-5 victory after Reed worked out of another bases-loaded jam later in the ninth inning.

Collins, in explaining his thought process, cited the memorable managerial decision made in 1998 by the Diamondbacks' Buck Showalter, who ordered an intentional walk of Bonds with the bases loaded and Arizona clinging to a two-run lead.

"Those are the kind of situations where you look back at the time when Buck Showalter walked Bonds with the bases loaded rather than pitch to him," Collins said. "It was the same feeling -- 'I might want to walk, pitch around this guy, [rather] than give him a chance to hit.' But fortunately [Reed] made some good pitches."

The Diamondbacks held on in 1998 to defeat Bonds and the Giants

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NEW YORK -- Deep inhale. Exhale. Repeat as needed.

Friday’s 3-0 Mets triumph over the Los Angeles Angels, which snapped a seven-game losing streak, was very much a hold-your-breath kind of win.

But this is how it’s going to be for a team without its best hitter (Yoenis Cespedes), its best pitcher (Noah Syndergaard) and its closer (Jeurys Familia) due to injury. GM Sandy Alderson wouldn’t even venture a guess as to when Steven Matz, Seth Lugo or Travis d’Arnaud would return when asked about their statuses before the game.

As such, the Mets are carried by their two hottest hitters -- Michael Conforto (11 homers, one shy of his career-high) and, yes, Rene Rivera (he of the 11-game hitting streak) -- and one consistent starting pitcher, Jacob deGrom, who survived both a bases-loaded, no-outs situation and a ring-finger blister to keep the Angels off the board and allow the Mets to post their first shutout since Opening Day.

They’re asking players such as Jose Reyes, whose best defensive days are behind them, to make juggling catches, like the one he made in that bases-loaded threat. And they’re looking to get big outs from the likes of cerebral rookie reliever Paul Sewald, who entered in the eighth inning and, after yielding a bunt single to Andrelton Simmons, struck out C.J. Cron with the tying run at the plate in the eighth inning.

DeGrom had no severe blips like the ones he’s had the last three times out, when mid-to-late inning struggles bumped his ERA over 4. He was the first Mets pitcher to have a scoreless seven-inning start this season. DeGrom was successfully able to maneuver through a lineup that, other than Mike Trout, had little punch. Trout had a single, a strikeout and an intentional walk on a 3-2 pitch after which deGrom got Luis Valbuena out to end another troublesome spot.

Jacob deGromAP Photo/Frank Franklin IIJacob deGrom survived both a bases-loaded, no-outs situation and a ring-finger blister over seven shutout innings.

“That’s what we’re looking to do, get our starting pitchers to really carry us,” said Terry Collins, who on Saturday will become the longest-tenured manager by games in Mets history. “Jake did a tremendous job tonight. He reached back when he needed to and made big pitches. That’s what we’ve come to expect from those guys.”

Conforto added another home run, his third against a left-handed pitcher this season. He was 5-for-48 against lefties last season. He’s 5-for-18 with three home runs this season. Conforto continues to spray the ball all around the ballpark. He has three home runs to left field and three more to left-center.

“He’s getting pitches out over the plate and he’s driving them,” Collins said.

DeGrom’s escape, Reyes’ catch and Conforto’s home run were the headline-making plays, but the most interesting late-game moment was Collins’ decision to hook lefty Jerry Blevins for Sewald, who had only entered with a lead once in his previous eight big-league appearances, with a man on and two outs in the eighth inning.

Simmons bunted for a hit, bringing up Cron and beginning a thought process that has carried Sewald to the major leagues, despite his fastball averaging only 91 mph.

Collins said the choice to bring in Sewald rather than heavily worked Fernando Salas or Hansel Robles was because Sewald has shown himself to be a strike thrower. In this case, he went right to work. He hit the outside edge with his first fastball and the bottom edge with his second. Then he threw a slider that broke to the left-handed batter’s box to finish off Cron. In his last 10 appearances, Sewald has 14 strikeouts and no walks.

“For me, it was about just trying to attack him right away,” Sewald said. “But nothing right over the middle. He had already swung at the first pitch twice earlier today. So I got ahead, and I think the [pickoff fake to second] made him think I was shaking to something. Rene called the slider. It had some depth to it, and we got the strikeout.

“If I can win a mental battle with anyone, it gives me an advantage. If I can make them overanalyze, just enough to throw them off and make a good pitch, then I can have some success.”

Watch Sewald on the mound and you’ll notice that he’s a deep breather as he prepares to make a pitch. It’s a relaxation technique, one he’s used for most of his life. Sewald, Craig Kimbrel and Evan Longoria are on the short list of the deepest breathers in baseball.

After the strikeout, there was a sign that this one meant a little something extra to Sewald, in the form of a mini-fist pump. He could inhale and exhale a bit more easily as he came off the mound.

“It was good to get the exhale [for the strikeout],” Sewald said with a smile.

For him and everyone else in the clubhouse.

Michael ConfortoTony Quinn/Icon SportswireMichael Conforto's adjustments at the plate have him busting out to a season that almost singularly might give Mets fans joy.

Somewhere amid the black sun that symbolizes the New York Mets' 2017 season, there is a growing pinprick of light peeking through, and it comes from the breakout campaign of soft-spoken, 24-year-old outfielder Michael Conforto. If Matt Harvey is the Dark Knight, then maybe Conforto can be the Mets' Quiet Knight.

Let's imagine an alternative universe where the Mets' roster came together as it was drawn up during the offseason. Yoenis Cespedes is anchoring the middle of the order for an offense that needs to do only so much, because the star-powered rotation has opposing bats flailing at air. Jay Bruce is providing some offensive support. Jeurys Familia is slamming the door in the ninth inning.

This was largely how it looked on paper before the season, when the Mets were projected to win between 85 and 90 games with one of the stingiest run-prevention units in baseball. Even with that scenario in place -- a healthy Cespedes and semiresurgent Bruce -- the Mets still seemed to lack one more premium bat. After last season, expecting Conforto to be that guy seemed like a long shot.

Indeed, as the season dawned, Conforto didn't even have an everyday spot in the New York lineup. In spring training, there was talk of starting Conforto in the minors, where he could play every day. That talk now seems a bit silly since Conforto has reverted to phenom form. And all because of the simplest of adjustments.

"He's returned to the swing he had when he first got to the major leagues," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "A little flatter swing, not so much trying to hit the ball in the air. He's just trying to hit the ball hard. He's back to where he's hit some of his homers to left field, which is what made him so successful his first year."

That almost makes Conforto's hot start bittersweet. If the Mets' campaign had unfolded as planned, he might be mashing for the Las Vegas 51s. At the same time, Conforto has played so well that not only could he have emerged as that additional big bat the Mets needed, but he probably would have somehow wedged his way into Collins' lineup one way or another. The other way to look at it is this: As bad as the past couple of weeks have been for the Mets, think of where they'd be without Conforto.

Conforto burst on the scene in 2015, hitting nine homers for the Mets' pennant winner that season and three more during New York's postseason run. Two of those homers came in the Mets' Game 4 loss in the World Series. Only 15 players have homered at a younger age in the Fall Classic, and of those who hit at least two homers, only Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx and Reggie Smith were younger. That's the version of Conforto everybody wanted to see last season. Turns out, he did, too, and set out to be that guy with his offseason program.

"Mostly I'd just look at video from when I first came up and coming through the system and compare it to some from last year, just to see what was there," Conforto said. "There were some mechanical differences."

That Conforto found the big stage to his liking during that debut season was far from surprising. He has been in the spotlight since he was 11 years old and played in the Little League World Series, where he played on ESPN, only to be overshadowed

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NEW YORK -- With a bundle of key players on the disabled list, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Friday the team is making some changes to the way it handles injuries.

Alderson is now meeting daily with the training staff, something he hasn't always done in the past. The front office also is communicating often with its "resources" in Port St. Lucie, Florida, at the team's spring training complex.

He said he's having the meetings "to provide context for the decisions that we have to make from day to day based on information that not only arises that day, but may have been sort of gestating over a period of days."

Alderson also said that bigger changes could still be made, but those "might require a little more in the way of investigation and research that sometimes requires a little time."

New York ended a seven-game skid with a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night but is still six games under .500. Alderson spoke before the Mets opened a seven-game homestand.

The general manager labeled the injuries a "contributing factor" in the team's struggles. New York has some of its biggest names on the DL, including ace Noah Syndergaard and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and those stints potentially could have been avoided or abbreviated if handled differently.

Syndergaard partially tore the latissimus dorsi behind his right arm on April 30, a few days after refusing an MRI while dealing with biceps and shoulder discomfort. He'll be out until at least after the All-Star break.

Alderson acknowledged at the time that skipping the MRI eliminated "some information that probably would have been useful," but also said the test may not have prevented a DL trip. That injury followed an offseason in which Syndergaard claimed to add 17 pounds of muscle , although Alderson said May 6 that Syndergaard only added three pounds of weight.

Cespedes has been out since April 26 after aggravating his left hamstring six days following an initial injury to the leg.

After those situations, Alderson said he would evaluate the team's protocols for handling injuries, and an adjustment to the communication chain is at least the first step.

"I think we have actually made some practical changes," he said. "Whether that's the extent of the change that we see, time will tell."

Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera

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NEW YORK -- Help may be on the way for the hobbled New York Mets.

Steven Matz and Seth Lugo made their first minor league rehab appearances Thursday night, pitching to Travis d'Arnaud in a game with Class A St. Lucie.

The left-handed Matz started and went three innings, allowing a run and two hits while throwing 53 pitches against Detroit's Lakeland affiliate. The right-handed Lugo followed with 3 2/3 scoreless innings on 42 pitches. Both pitchers have been sidelined since spring training with inflammation in their pitching elbows.

D'Arnaud is working his way back from a bruised right wrist. He caught seven innings and had two singles in four at-bats.

The Mets have dropped seven straight and are seven games under .500 for the first time since September 2014. The rotation has been particularly troubled, posting the third-worst ERA in the majors (5.13) entering Thursday while missing Matz, Lugo and ace Noah Syndergaard, who is out until after the All-Star break with a torn muscle in his right arm.

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LAKEWOOD, N.J. -- The line stretches from the end of the dugout past the third base bag, all the way to the left field foul pole. Fans in a collection of jerseys from Florida Gators and Denver Broncos blues to Jets and Eagles greens, all with the same name on the back: TEBOW. They're all hoping for the chance at an autograph or a picture.

In the history of minor league baseball, only Michael Jordan -- who famously left the NBA to join the White Sox Double-A affiliate Birmingham Barons -- had this type of affect on attendance.

For Tebow's team, the Columbia Fireflies, attendance is up more than 30 percent this year versus this time last year. Like Jordan's appearances did for the Southern League teams in 1994 (total league attendance that year topped 2.5 million fans), Tebow's presence has had an even more significant effect on the road for Class A South Atlantic League teams like the Lakewood BlueClaws.

For most road stops, having Tebow come to town is worth a doubling in attendance compared to a standard game. At its extreme, it's even more. The Hickory Crawdads drew more fans for the four games against the Fireflies (17,500) than they had for their first eight games leading up to the series (15,900). If Tebow stays the whole season in the league, road teams would see an additional cumulative $3.1 million from his presence, Baseball America calculated.

Had Saturday's game between the Fireflies and BlueClaws not been rained out, team executives believe they would have sold more than 10,000 tickets for the only the fourth time in the team's 15-year history.

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BEFORE Noah Syndergaard registered his first triple-digit radar gun reading this season or Yoenis Cespedes launched his first light-tower home run, the New York Mets stars pushed their bodies to the limit in the weight room.

Syndergaard opened a window into his offseason workout program in an interview with Men's Fitness magazine, which chronicled his fondness for "squat heavy'' days and a protein-heavy diet highlighted by venison, buffalo, sweet potato hash, avocado and an egg-laden concoction known as the "Bowl of Doom.'' As if a 98-mph fastball weren't lethal enough, Syndergaard concluded he could take his game to even greater heights by reconfiguring his body and throwing even harder.

"Noah Syndergaard added 17 pounds of muscle this offseason,'' blared the Men's Fitness headline in February. "Now he's stronger than ever.''

Cespedes, who signed a $110 million contract in November, also embraced the bigger-is-better philosophy. During a March 4 video segment with ESPN's Jessica Mendoza, he lifted 990 pounds while using a Kaatsu band, a device that moderates blood flow during exercise. In the video, Cespedes attacks a massive stack of weights with encouragement from Mets strength and conditioning coordinator Mike Barwis, who pumps him up with the exhortation "come on, Vin Diesel'' before his first rep. 

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Hansel Robles
4 6.23 23 21
BAM. Conforto .333
HRM. Conforto 13
RBIM. Conforto 31
RM. Conforto 34
OPSM. Conforto 1.138
ERAJ. deGrom 3.56
SOJ. deGrom 76