Bruce's lineup spot uncertain for Mets' finale vs. Braves

NEW YORK -- As the last-place team in the National League East, the Atlanta Braves can afford to let someone learn on the job, as right-handed pitcher Ryan Weber will begin to do Wednesday night.

Their opponents, the New York Mets, are in the thick of the NL wild-card race, and veteran right fielder Jay Bruce may not have any time left to snap out of a nearly two-month slump.

Bruce's place in -- or out -- of the lineup is sure to be a central topic Wednesday night, when the Mets try to avoid being swept by the Braves in the finale of a three-game series at Citi Field.

Atlanta right-hander Julio Teheran threw seven strong innings Tuesday, when the Braves withstood a late Mets comeback to eke out a 5-4 win. The result, coupled with wins by the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, dropped New York into a three-way tie with the Giants and Cardinals for the two NL wild-card spots.

The Giants, Cardinals and Mets are all 81-70.

The Mets looked as if they might be mounting a dramatic comeback during a three-run eighth inning Tuesday, when Eric Campbell -- a .172 hitter who had not batted in the majors since May 30 -- produced the second run of the frame with a pinch-hit RBI single. He batted in place of Bruce, who led the NL in RBIs prior to an Aug. 1 trade to the Mets.

Bruce, who didn't start either Sunday or Monday, went 0-for-3 Tuesday and is batting just .176 in 39 games with the Mets. He is 3-for-37 (.081) dating back to Sept. 5.

Manager Terry Collins said it was a difficult decision to pinch-hit for the left-handed-hitting Bruce against southpaw Ian Krol but that he did so in the best interests of the team.

"It's one of the worst things you can do as a manager -- pinch-hit for a star, especially one of the elite power hitters in the game," Collins said. "But you know, my job is to try to win the game."

Bruce -- a three-time All-Star with 237 career homers -- said it was the first time he could remember being lifted for a pinch hitter but that he understood Collins' decision.

"He didn't need to explain that to me," said Bruce, who actually was replaced by a pinch hitter eight times previously. "I obviously get how the game is played, and you know what his thought process was there. I don't deserve any explanations from the manager. He's the manager, he makes the decisions."

Perhaps Bruce will get a chance to redeem himself against Weber, who will be making his second start of the season and his first since Sept. 5. Overall this year, he is 1-1 with a 5.46 ERA in 15 outings.

Weber earned the opportunity to return to the rotation by throwing 4 2/3 innings of one-run relief in place of right-hander John Gant last Friday against the Washington Nationals.

"He did such a good job the other day," Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said Monday. "(He) was efficient and extended it so well, and he's somewhat stretched out. Just get the bird off the ground and get us in flight, see where we end up."

Weber is 0-0 with a 7.56 ERA in two career games (one start) against the Mets.

The Braves (60-91) look increasingly likely to end up with fewer than 100 losses, something that seemed inconceivable when manager Fredi Gonzalez was fired following a 9-28 start that had the club on pace to lose 120 games.

Atlanta is 51-63 under Snitker and needs to win just three of its final 11 games to avoid the franchise's first 100-loss season since 1988.

"They are big (games) for us -- that's why we're going out there to win, not to show up," Snitker said. "We're going out to try to win the ballgame."

Ageless right-hander Bartolo Colon (14-7, 3.14 ERA) will look to serve as the stopper for the Mets. The 43-year-old veteran, who needs one more win to become only the fourth pitcher to ever win at least 15 games at age 43 or older, is 9-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 14 career starts against the Braves.

In three starts against Atlanta this year, Colon is 1-1 with a 1.71 ERA.