NEW YORK – In the absence of injured All-Star Jose Reyes, the New York Mets are taking a long, hard look at 21-year-old Ruben Tejada.
The team wants to determine whether he's ready to start at shortstop next season if Reyes leaves as a free agent, and a 3-2 loss to the Padres on Thursday was not Tejada's best audition.
Cameron Maybin homered and stole two bases before scoring the tiebreaking run on Tejada's second error, rallying San Diego past the Mets 3-2 for a split of their four-game series.
"I'm going to talk to him in a little while, because he's the shortstop," New York manager Terry Collins said. "That's why we brought him here, because we want him to play shortstop every day until Jose comes back, and he's got to let this roll off his back. We're going to turn to some older guys to make sure his mind's in the right place."
Lucas Duda hit a two-run double for the Mets, who managed only three hits and went 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position. New York finished 3-6 on a disappointing homestand and has lost eight of 11 overall.
With the Mets short on rested relievers, Jonathon Niese (11-9) tossed 7 2-3 strong innings and matched his career high with 122 pitches. He outlasted Cory Luebke in a matchup of young left-handers from Ohio, but couldn't hold an early 2-0 lead.
"I didn't even know we had a short 'pen today," Niese said. "I just went out there with the same mentality — throw nice and easy, throw strikes."
The score was tied in the eighth when Maybin hit a leadoff single and stole second on a pickoff throw to first. Duda's toss was a bit late to Tejada and the Mets didn't get the call on a close play when he tagged Maybin's shoulder.
Niese, who pitched a one-hitter against San Diego at Citi Field last year for his only major league shutout, put his hands on his head in exasperation.
After the game, Maybin said he was safe. Tejada thought he got him.
"That's the name of the game, man. Sometimes you've got to try to force the issue a little bit and I was able to do so and it worked out," Maybin said.
One out later, Jesus Guzman was intentionally walked and the runners pulled off a double steal as Kyle Blanks struck out. Aaron Cunningham hit a grounder wide of third and Tejada charged in, trying to scoop it on his forehand. But the ball kicked off the heel of his glove, allowing Maybin to score.
"You have to make that play," Tejada said.
San Diego started the series with the best bullpen ERA in the majors. After coughing up late leads in each of the first two games, the relief corps closed this one out without much trouble.
Chad Qualls (6-6) worked a perfect seventh, Luke Gregerson pitched the eighth and Heath Bell got three quick outs for his 32nd save in 35 chances. The last-place Padres improved to 5-2 on a 10-game road trip that takes them to Cincinnati this weekend.
"We could have easily swept these guys if we were on our A game on Monday and Tuesday," Bell said. "We just felt really bad that we kind of let the guys down and we didn't want that to happen again today. We were like men on missions. We were determined to have clean innings and keep people out and have no drama out there."
Maybin homered in the sixth and Cunningham lofted a double toward the right-field line to begin the seventh. A two-out single by No. 8 batter Luis Martinez tied it at 2.
Luebke threw 109 pitches over five innings. He walked a career-high four and struck out eight, one shy of the career high he set in his previous outing at Pittsburgh.
Tejada, who turned in a spectacular play Wednesday night, made a throwing error to begin the third. Moments later, he started a difficult double play.
Shuttled back and forth from the minors this season, Tejada has committed eight errors with the Mets while seeing time at shortstop and second base.
"We've all been there," third baseman David Wright said. "He's played great defense. He obviously had a little throwing mishap earlier in the game, but all in all, when the ball's hit to him, he's very, very good over there and he's going to make those plays. Today it just took a bad hop on him and it ate him up."
NOTES: Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens was ejected by plate umpire Vic Carapazza for barking about balls and strikes from the dugout after Nick Evans was called out on strikes with the bases loaded to end the fifth. ... Wright singled in the fifth, establishing a Mets record with 2,048 career total bases. ... New York CF Angel Pagan sat out after leaving Wednesday night's loss because of a lower back spasm. Scott Hairston started in center, and batted leadoff for the first time this season. ... The Mets have made 12 errors in their last nine games. ... The teams meet again next week for a three-game series in San Diego.