Santana struggles, Mets hit rock bottom

4/11/2010 - MLB Johan Santana New York Mets + more

NEW YORK -- Johan Santana versus Livan Hernandez proved to be a mismatch. The wrong way.

And now, after a 5-2 loss to the Washington Nationals on Sunday afternoon, the Mets find themselves with a 2-4 record and hit the road in last place in the National League East.

Challenging road series against the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals are on tap, too, with Santana due to pitch in only one of those six games.

The Amazins had not been alone in last place in the division since Sept. 24, 2005. That day, coincidentally, the Mets climbed to .500 but remained in the cellar despite David Wright homering off Hernandez in the right-hander's first tour as a National.

"It's six games," Jeff Francoeur said, initially downplaying the start.

"You never want to say that," the right fielder then acknowledged, "because before long you can say, 'It's just 20 games, just the first month.' But we do need to have a good road trip. With that being said, we better get it going quick because we've got some teams coming up that are really, really good. I think -- what? -- our next six series in a row are versus teams that are either in the playoffs or right there at the end with good records [Rockies, Cardinals, Cubs, Braves, Dodgers, Phillies]. So we've got to play well here."

About the only fireworks Sunday? Closer Francisco Rodriguez, getting mop-up work in the ninth inning to keep him sharp, hit Mets-nemesis Willie Harris, Saturday's hero, in the left forearm with a fastball that tailed in. The benches cleared. The bullpens, too. No punches were thrown -- fitting for a day when the Mets were mostly punchless anyway.

Hernandez, released by the Mets last Aug. 20 with a 5.47 ERA, tossed seven scoreless innings on Sunday. Had Nationals manager Jim Riggleman allowed Hernandez to record one more out rather than lift the ageless right-hander at 88 pitches, Hernandez would have been in position for his longest scoreless performance in six years.

Meanwhile, Santana surrendered a first-inning grand slam to Josh Willingham that was awarded after a video review. The ace, who was aiming to bookend the homestand with victories, surrendered five runs on five hits and three walks while striking out three in an 87-pitch effort that spanned five innings.

"I was trying to throw my fastball," Santana said. "I didn't have it in the first inning. It was all over the place. For some reason it was cutting. I wasn't able to command it the way I had to. As the game was going I tried to make some adjustments, but they jumped right ahead and scored some runs, and that was the whole ballgame."

Said catcher Rod Barajas: "He just didn't have the right feel. From what I've seen, he's never been that erratic with the fastball."

The Nats' shutout bid ended when first baseman Mike Jacobs, in a 1-for-14 rut to open the season, slugged a two-run homer off ex-Yankee Brian Bruney in the eighth for his 100th career long ball.

Jacobs' shot may muzzle, at least for a few hours, the calls for prospect Ike Davis' promotion from Triple-A Buffalo, but the deep-rooted issues with the Mets remain.

What now?

The best hope for the Mets is probably to just hold their collective breath and hope that things don't spiral out of control. That John Maine's mid-90s fastball returns when he steps on the mound Tuesday at Coors Field. That Jon Niese and Mike Pelfrey back up their opening-week performances while rounding out that series. That Jose Reyes builds on Sunday's fifth-inning double and his sharpness returns, quickly. And that the Mets are still relevant in mid-May, when center fielder Carlos Beltran is expected to come off the disabled list, assuming his surgically repaired right knee is fine when he begins testing it by running any day now in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

"Johan is going to have an inning here or there where things happen," manager Jerry Manuel said. "I thought it would have given us a good lift to kind of fight our way back into that contest. I thought we had every opportunity to, but we were unable to get it done."

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