It's amazing how quickly things can change in just one turn through the rotation.
Last time right-hander Jeremy Hefner took the mound, he notched his first victory of the season as the Mets ran their winning streak to four games, one day before completing a four-game sweep of the rival Yankees.
Now, as he prepares for his first start since in Tuesday's series opener against the Nationals, the Mets are coming off three straight losses over the weekend to the National League-worst Marlins. The Mets managed just one run in each of the first two losses before dropping an 11-6 contest in the series finale.
While Hefner will be charged with trying to get the Mets back on track Tuesday, he'll also be continuing his extended audition to remain in New York's starting rotation. With top prospect Zack Wheeler expected to be promoted in the coming weeks, either Hefner or fellow starter Dillon Gee will seemingly be out of a rotation spot.
Though Hefner remained winless until Wednesday's triumph over the Yankees, the righty has allowed three runs or fewer in seven of his last nine outings and has turned in quality starts in three of his last four.
"I feel like every guy that's trying to establish himself is always being evaluated," Hefner said after limiting the Yanks to three runs over six innings of work. "If you're too comfortable, then you might be humbled. So I try not to be too comfortable. I try to keep an edge. I know I work as hard as I possibly can in between starts, and I know I give the best effort I can on days that I start. Those are the things I can control."
The Nationals, meanwhile, are looking for a turnaround of their own. After dropping two of three to the division-rival Braves over the weekend, the Nats enter this series one game under .500 at 28-29. Overall, Washington has lost four of its last five.
The good news for the Nationals is they will have their most consistent starter on the mound Tuesday in Jordan Zimmermann, though he too is coming off a disastrous performance his last time out.
Zimmermann (8-3, 2.37 ERA) was tagged for seven earned runs -- more than his prior six starts combined -- on Wednesday in Baltimore. As a result, Zimmermann took the loss in a game in which teammate Ryan Zimmerman hit three home runs.
Though the right-hander took complete blame for the loss, manager Davey Johnson didn't seem too concerned about Zimmermann following the rare disappointing start.
"I thought Zimm had pretty good stuff," Johnson said, "but [that] ballpark can eat you alive."
Nationals: Werth on track for Tuesday return
Outfielder Jayson Werth is expected to be back in uniform for the Nationals in Tuesday's series opener after connecting on a pair of home runs in Sunday's rehab start with Class A Potomac.
Werth, sidelined since May 3 with a right hamstring injury, capped off an impressive rehab stint by playing a full nine innings on Sunday for the first time in his recovery. In six games with Potomac overall, Werth hit .556 (10-for-18) with the two home runs and eight RBIs.
In 27 games with the Nationals prior to his injury, Werth was hitting .260 with four homers and 10 RBIs.
Mets: Niese in line to start Saturday
The Nationals will be fortunate enough in this three-game set to avoid the Mets' top two starters in Matt Harvey and Jon Niese.
Harvey is scheduled to next take the mound on Friday against the Marlins, with Niese set to return to the rotation one day later. Niese, who missed his start this past Saturday while dealing with left shoulder tendinitis, will test his arm Tuesday in a bullpen session and then receive an extra day of rest before toeing the rubber on Saturday, if all goes according to plan.
• Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa is 5-for-10 (.500) with two home runs in his career against Hefner.
• Hefner went 0-3 with a 5.29 ERA in three starts against the Nats last season and lasted just four innings, allowing three runs, for a no-decision in his lone start against Washington this season.
• Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond homered in Sunday's series finale to extend Washington's streak of hitting at least one home run to 75 consecutive series, the longest active streak in the Majors. The last time they went without a homer in a series was Sept. 12-15, 2011, in a four-game set against the Mets.