MILWAUKEE -- Matt Harvey is an ace, Zack Wheeler is full of potential, Jeremy Hefner is as steady as they come and Dillon Gee has been plenty strong of late. But Major League rotations typically employ five members, and Shaun Marcum has been the Mets' clear weak link.
That trend continued Saturday, when Marcum's ineffective outing dropped him to his 10th loss in 14 games, furthering the injury concerns surrounding him and handing the Mets a 7-6 defeat to the Brewers, despite a spirited comeback attempt.
Marcum lasted five-plus innings, giving up at least one run in each of the first four. The Brewers quite simply teed off on their former teammate in the early innings at Miller Park, rapping out 11 hits through five.
By the sixth, every Brewers hitter had reached base at least once, with catcher Jonathan Lucroy's solo homer and RBI single leading the attack against Marcum. Jean Segura added a sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single, Norichika Aoki contributed two hits and an RBI, and even opposing pitcher Yovani Gallardo notched two hits and scored twice.
Marcum came into the day insisting that he was fully recovered from the upper back issue that prompted him to undergo an MRI earlier this week -- an aftereffect, perhaps, of the right biceps, neck and shoulder issues that forced him to open this season on the disabled list. But manager Terry Collins personally went out to talk to Marcum at one point in the sixth inning, while trainer Ray Ramirez stepped out of the dugout but never made it to the mound.
Marcum left the game shortly thereafter, having given up six runs (five earned). He admitted to feeling "numbness, tingling and [a] cold hand" during the later stages of his outing, sensations he has "never really experienced before."
"As pitch count builds up, that's when I usually notice it or feel it," Marcum said. "You can tell, too, because my velocity drops a little bit. It's just something that I'll deal with and try to find a way to get these guys out when it's my turn to go."
Still, the Mets battled back, and battled back, and battled back. Unable to do much of anything in the early innings against Gallardo, they finally broke through on John Buck's solo homer in the fifth inning, scoring again moments later on Daniel Murphy's RBI double. Two more runs came on a sixth-inning double by Buck, who was a late addition to the starting lineup after Marcum requested to throw to him instead of backup catcher Anthony Recker.
That hit drew the Mets within one for the first time since the first inning. But Murphy's fielding error led to another Brewers run in the sixth inning, and Logan Schafer's RBI double off LaTroy Hawkins gave Milwaukee a two-run cushion in the seventh, rendering Marlon Byrd's solo homer meaningless in the ninth.
"That's why this game is fun," Schafer said. "They kept coming back, we kept coming back at them. We exchanged punches for a while. I'm glad we stayed on top."
For Marcum, the loss was simply the latest chapter in a season full of struggles. Had Jon Niese not suffered a major shoulder injury last month, knocking him out of the rotation for most of the summer, Marcum might have been demoted already. Instead, he has continued starting games for the Mets, posting a 5.29 ERA to supplement his 1-10 record.
If his struggles are rooted in injury, Marcum will either need to find a way to heal -- and soon -- or the Mets will need to do something about it. Pitching through numbness for two consecutive games now, Marcum spoke Saturday of altering his arm slot or making other adjustments to eliminate the issue.
But if his struggles are more a product of something else, the Mets may find themselves in even more trouble.
"If he's healthy and not pitching good, that's certainly a concern," Collins said. "But he's had some pretty good games, and recently. Even the other day he pitched pretty good, even though his back started getting stiff on him. I think tonight was a tough night for him."