NEW YORK -- As LaTroy Hawkins fanned Freddie Freeman in the eighth inning of the Mets' 2-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night, it affirmed a belief for Terry Collins.
Collins managed his bullpen in the early part of the season when it was in disarray, ranking toward the bottom of the league; when it featured star closer Bobby Parnell, but not much else; when leads could shrink in the blink of an eye.
There was no "eighth-inning guy" then. When Collins let the righty Hawkins face the lefty Freeman to end the top of the eighth, it was more than just because Hawkins had struck out the first baseman the only two times he's faced him, though that was part of it -- he has faith in his bullpen and his new setup man.
"That's certainly a lot of it," Collins said. "It's nice to know you've got that guy, you can run him out there and you don't have to worry. You worry about your matchups in the seventh."
The Mets' bullpen ranks just 23rd in the Majors with a 4.04 ERA, but since the start of July, its 2.57 bullpen ERA is 10th best in MLB.
Parnell took a loss on Monday, but that was "an enigma for Bobby," as Collins put it.
"They've really been pitching great in the last month," Collins said of the bullpen. "We've made a couple changes down there. Some guys have really stepped up, even in some of those long guys we've gotten two innings out of a lot of guys that we don't normally ask them to do that and they've stepped up and done it."
Gonzalez Germen, who didn't debut until July 12, has a 2.45 ERA in four appearances. David Aardsma didn't join the Mets until their June 9, 20-inning marathon with the Marlins, but he has been perhaps their most consistent reliever aside from Parnell, posting 2.33 ERA in 19 1/3 innings.
"We've got some options right now and that makes you feel pretty good, knowing you can shorten the game down to less than nine innings," Collins said.
Mejia 'the choice' for Mets in Friday's twin bill
NEW YORK -- Ask about Jenrry Mejia, and Mets manager Terry Collins will be quick to point out the enormous potential. Before there were Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, there was a 20-year-old pitcher from the Dominican Republic who was captivating the imagination of the Flushing faithful.
On Friday, Mejia will return to the Mets for the first time this season to start in New York's doubleheader against the Nationals.
"We've tried to let him know or wanted him to understand -- what he's hearing today about Wheeler, about Harvey was all about Jenrry Mejia three years ago," Collins said. "Sky's the limit, plus stuff, power arm -- all those things, and he's only 23 years old."
Collins said Mejia will be added on Friday, likely as the team's 26th eligible player for the doubleheader, and he will probably start the early game. Harvey will likely start the later game and Wheeler will start on Thursday.
Mejia made his debut for New York in 2010. The organization's former top prospect didn't blow opponents away in the same ilk that Harvey and even Wheeler have, but his 94-mph fastball that could touch 98 didn't do anything to squash the optimism either.
Then came the Tommy John surgery. Mejia pitched in just five games for Triple-A Buffalo in 2011 and didn't make it back to the Majors until he pitched in five games -- three starts -- last September.
"He's coming off some injury issues that hopefully are behind him now," Collins said.
Mejia's been effectively passed over since he was last considered a major piece of the Mets' future. Harvey and Wheeler look like long-term staples atop the rotation and Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and Jeremy Hefner provide solid depth behind them.
Still, Mejia has pitched well in the Minors. He's 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA in his first two starts with Double-A Binghamton. He's on his way back to the Majors, "because Sandy [Alderson] said he's the choice," Collins said.
But the manager's also given his newest starter a message: Take this chance to show New York that he still has what made scouts salivate over him just a few years ago.
"Don't write yourself off because you've got some arm issues," Collins said. "Get yourself ready, work on your command, work on your secondary pitches and when you get your chance, which is going to be Friday, do something with it.
"Go up here and show us you belong here and that you should stay here."
Quintanilla's strong work puts pressure on Tejada
NEW YORK -- The Mets are in no hurry to jettison shortstop Omar Quintanilla after the way he's been playing since being recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas on May 30. So if Ruben Tejada does eventually make his way back to the Major Leagues, he's going to have to prove he belongs in order to keep his spot on the team.
Tejada, who went on the DL on May 30 with a right quad strain, is hitting .315 with seven RBIs for Las Vegas. He also has a .363 on-base percentage. While with the Mets, Tejada hit .209 with a .267 on-base percentage in 50 games.
Before suffering the injury, Tejada struggled at the plate because he was hitting the ball in the air too often. Mets manager Terry Collins said Tuesday that Tejada is making some improvement in that area, but not quite enough.
"He's swinging better," Collins said. "He's getting the ball out of the air a little bit more, not to the satisfaction of the people that are watching it."
With Quintanilla at shortstop, though, the Mets don't have much of a need for Tejada at this point. Quintanilla has provided strong defense in the 44 games he's played with the team. He's hitting .227 with two home runs and 14 RBIs, and he has a .316 on-base percentage.
The Mets lost Quintanilla because of a roster crunch last season, but signed him again this offseason. The club doesn't want history to repeat itself.
"I know one thing we don't want to do, and that's lose Quintanilla," Collins said. "We're going to make sure that when Ruben comes back that he's playing as well as he can possibly play. If that's the case, we've got some other decisions to make, but they aren't going to be easy."
If the Mets need Tejada, they're going to want him to be the player he was in recent seasons, not the one who hasn't seen the Major Leagues since May. He had an OBP of at least .305 in each of the past three seasons.
"Sometimes when you take that next step, the motivation's a little bit higher that you don't want to go back," Collins said. "Maybe you get the kind of player we've seen the last couple years."
Chris Iseman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.