The Mets and Phillies are growing awfully familiar with each other.
The Jersey Turnpike rivals are set to open a three-game series beginning Friday at Citi Field, as part of a roughly month-long stretch in which they play each other more than a quarter of the time. The Mets and Phillies next meet in a rare five-game series from May 29-June 2 in Philadelphia.
But first, it's back to Flushing for the Mets, who are coming off a ragged 2-6 road trip through Philadelphia, Denver and Miami. Though they continued to receive strong starting pitching for much of the trip, they struggled to generate offense and close out games with their bullpen.
Jenrry Mejia, who starts Friday night against the Phillies, is the lone Mets starter who has scuffled on a consistent basis. Mejia allowed a combined 14 runs in his past two starts, prompting whispers that the Mets may soon begin looking at other rotation options -- Daisuke Matsuzaka, Rafael Montero or Jacob deGrom chief among them.
The Phillies are coming off a four-game home-and-home series in which they were swept by the Blue Jays. On Friday, they will counter with Roberto Hernandez, whose return to the rotation last week could not have gone much better. After the Phillies skipped his prior start because of some breaks in the schedule, Hernandez held the Nationals to four hits over 7 1/3 scoreless innings.
"Hernandez was so locked in," Phillies center fielder Ben Revere said. "He hit his spots. When he fell behind, he got a groundout or flyout. Today was his day."
Though the Mets and Phillies have both struggled to win with much consistency lately, they are part of a cluttered NL East that spent most of this week with all five teams above .500. That is no longer the case, but all five teams remain within striking distance of the division lead.
"The Phillies, for years, didn't have [Chase] Utley and [Ryan] Howard in their lineup for a while," Mets manager Terry Collins said, speaking of Philadelphia's injury history. "But everybody's got their guys [now], so it's going to be a catfight as we get down into the summer. Each and every night you play in your division is going to be a tough game."
Mets: Hurlers not pitching in with bats
Among the many members of the Mets' lineup struggling this season are the team's pitchers, who are making outs at a record-setting clip.
Mets pitchers have opened the season in an 0-for-58 funk, setting the Major League record for hitless at-bats to start a season. They have struck out 31 times in 70 plate appearances as a staff, prompting the coaching staff to discuss changes to their pregame routine. When the Mets return home, their pitchers will begin taking regular outdoor batting practice instead of simply hitting in an indoor cage.
"We stress from the first day of Spring Training that pitchers have got to be a little more athletic," Collins said. "They've got to handle the bat a little bit better. We hit every day, like everybody does. We bunt. We run the bases. We do all the things that everybody else does. We just haven't put the ball in play."
The St. Louis Browns held the previous record for pitchers' hitting futility, opening the 1914 season in an 0-for-45 slide. That mark stood for 100 years.
Phillies: Could Byrd see time in center?
Revere has struggled offensively and defensively in center field, but the Phillies have few alternatives.
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said Thursday that Marlon Byrd could be a candidate at some point.
"He's an option for center field, yeah," Sandberg said. "He has experience there. From what I've seen, his first-step quickness and his reads are outstanding. And he has an above average arm."
Byrd played two games in center field last season with the Mets and 46 games in center with the Cubs and Red Sox in 2012. He played all 118 games there with the Cubs in 2011.
"I've talked to him about it," Sandberg said. "And he likes playing center field. In my experience, a lot of guys that have played the corners and center field like center field the best, as far as seeing the ball and getting even better jumps. You can see the angles in front of you. The job that he does in right field, with that, with jumps, positioning and going back, going to the gap and coming in, he's been outstanding."
• Frank Viola, who is recovering from open-heart surgery, will represent the Mets at the 2014 First-Year Player Draft in Secaucus, N.J., on June 5. Viola, who was slated to serve as pitching coach at Triple-A Las Vegas before his health issue arose, underwent surgery in April.
• Mets starting pitchers own a 2.98 ERA at home this season, compared to 4.62 on the road.
• The Phillies optioned Freddy Galvis to Triple-A Lehigh Valley following Thursday's game, in order to get the infielder more at-bats. They'll announce their corresponding roster move before the game on Friday.