ATLANTA — Bartolo Colon was expected to just be a place holder in the New York Mets rotation until Zack Wheeler returned from Tommy John surgery in the second half of the season.
Wheeler, though, had a setback and the Mets have been hit by plenty of other bad pitching news, with Matt Harvey out for the year and most of the other projected starters ailing.
Colon, who turned 43 in May, has gone from a veteran luxury to an ultra-necessary contributor as the Mets, winners of six straight games, try to make it make to the postseason.
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In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to call the stocky right-hander a savior for the Mets' season as they battle for a National League Wild Card spot.
Colon takes a 13-7 record and a 3.22 ERA into Saturday night's start against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field and he has been even better than that has the season has worn down.
The native of the Dominican Republic is 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA in his past seven starts, including six scoreless innings in a victory at Cincinnati on Monday.
“He's been the mainstay,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “He's the guy that every fifth day takes the baseball. We don't have to worry about pitch counts, we don't have to worry about innings. He just goes out there and does it.
“He's had two starts where our bullpen was tired and we needed him to get deep in the game, and you looked up and he was in the eighth inning. He's been a tremendous addition to the staff.”
Colon tossed eight scoreless innings in a victory over the Braves in New York on May 2 and is 9-3 with a 2.35 ERA in 13 career starts against Atlanta.
Despite what seemed like a deep rotation, the Mets brought Colon back as a free agent on a one-year deal after he went 14-13 last year following a 15-13 season in 2014.
Colon has been even better this season and his 231 career victories rank third among Latin American-born pitchers.
One Braves hitter who has flourished against Colon, though, is Freddie Freeman. The first baseman has a .481 average and one of his 17 homers against the Mets have come against Colon.
Of course, Freeman is hitting well against everyone right now, as shown by his 15-game hitting streak and 31 consecutive games reaching base safely.
“I'm not doing anything different than when I was slumping. I'm just actually hitting the ball,” Freeman said. “Early on in the season I was striking out a lot.”
Rookie John Gant, who will face off against Colon, returned after missing nearly eight weeks with an oblique strain and worked five innings at Philadelphia in a no-decision, giving up four runs (three earned) and striking out six last Saturday.
Gant is 1-3 with a 4.70 ERA in 14 games, including five starts. His only major league victory came against the Mets in New York on June 17, when he allowed just two hits and a run over 6 2/3 innings while striking out five and walking two.
Gant, 24, was taken by the Mets in the 21st round of the 2011 draft. He was dealt to the Braves in July last year as part of the trade that brought veteran infielders Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe to New York.