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HOU@NYM: Hefner fans seven over eight strong frames

On Saturday night at Marlins Park, Mets starter Jeremy Hefner will look to build on what was his best start of the season. Marlins ace Josh Johnson will look to rebound from his worst.

Hefner was on pace for his first career shutout on Sunday before allowing his only run -- which tied the game -- in the ninth inning, but his dominant performance was his best yet. In all, Hefner scattered just five hits over eight-plus innings -- two in the ninth -- and struck out seven to tie his season high.

In hindsight, Mets manager Terry Collins' decision to let Hefner pitch the ninth still worked out, even after he allowed the game-tying run, as Ike Davis hit a walk-off home run to lead off the bottom of the frame.

"Jeremy pitched a great game," Collins said after the game. "That's why he deserved to go out there in the ninth inning. I know it was 1-0, and I know we had [closer] Frankie [Francisco] ready. We had all sorts of people ready. But he said he felt great, and I thought he should go out and start the inning."

Johnson likely wished his manager could have said the same. The righty allowed six earned runs and scattered 10 hits in just three innings against the Dodgers on Saturday, dropping his fourth consecutive start in the same season for the first time in his career.

"I was terrible," said Johnson, whose ERA jumped from 3.73 to 4.00. "That was pretty much it -- everything, command."

Johnson dropped six straight over two seasons earlier in his career -- Sept. 7, 2006-July 4, 2007 -- but the Marlins' ace has never had a single-season lull like this one.

"It's part of it," Johnson said of the personal losing streak. "But you don't want to pitch like that. I was terrible. We got one in the first, and I gave that up pretty quick. We got another one, and I gave that up."

"I think it was just him being out of whack," catcher John Buck said. "He left a couple of pitches up. A couple of sliders backed up on him. His fastball still had life. It was heavy. His curveball was good, changeup was good. What got hit were sliders that backed up, or sliders that went to the other side. Or a fastball that rode up and in. When it's not right, that's what it is. It was just one of those games."

The Marlins took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but Los Angeles tagged Johnson for four in the bottom of the frame. Miami plated another in the top of the second, but two runs were all the Marlins could muster off Clayton Kershaw.

Miami's offense has given Johnson just five combined runs over the four losses.

Mets: Trying to take Thole out of hole
Collins wants Josh Thole to get back to the basics.

Thole is mired in a 0-for-27 slump entering Saturday's game with the Marlins. The drought dates back to Aug. 14 against Cincinnati.

"We're trying to reestablish the swing he had two years ago when he first got here," Collins said, referring to the swing that helped Thole hit .287 between 2009-10. "Shorten his swing up, shorten up on the bat a little bit. ... Just to get him to go back where his hands were a bit and go back to being the guy he was when he got here."

Collins said Thole has been swinging too aggressively and needs to get back to being a singles and doubles hitter with a less violent swing.

Marlins: Loria looking at next year
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is already thinking ahead to 2013.

Loria will pay close attention to his team over the remaining month of the season, judging everything from on-field performances to the energy level of his players.

"I want to see what comes from the team that's underperformed," Loria said.

Loria said on Friday that he has thought about the direction the team may move in the offseason, but said no moves will be made until the season concludes.

"I have in my mind some thoughts," he said. "We have some very good pieces here, very good elements and very good parts to this team. There are some guys who have performed very well. Others haven't, and we have to look at it. Maybe there were aberrations. You've got to be very careful. You don't want to say, 'Well this guy doesn't work,' and then he goes elsewhere and he does work.

"I have to tell you honestly, I haven't assessed blame. I'm not looking at it that way."

Worth noting
• Donovan Solano took a career-high 12-game hit streak into Friday's game, but he went 0-for-4 against R.A. Dickey.

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