Mets look to regain first place against Braves

NEW YORK — Jason Vargas will take the mound Thursday afternoon for the New York Mets against the Atlanta Braves as the Mets try to return to first place after spending most of the season’s opening five weeks atop the National League East.

But the biggest news of the day for the Mets will almost certainly have nothing to do with how Vargas performs.

The Mets will likely learn Thursday how seriously ace right-handed pitcher Jacob deGrom is hurt.

Vargas (0-1, 22.09 ERA) is scheduled to face Braves right-hander Julio Teheran (1-1, 4.50 ERA) in the finale of the three-game series at Citi Field.

The Braves have won the first two games, including Wednesday night, when deGrom suffered a hyperextended right elbow while batting in the bottom of the third inning and left after tossing four scoreless innings in Atlanta’s 7-0 victory.

With their fourth straight victory, the Braves (18-11) moved into first place in the NL East, a half-game ahead of the Mets (17-11). New York’s hopes of remaining in contention the remainder of the season could hinge on the results of the MRI performed on deGrom late Wednesday night.

The Mets are 9-5 in games started by deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, who have combined to post a 2.46 ERA. But while New York is 8-6 when anyone else starts, the quartet of Vargas, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler has combined to post a 5.93 ERA.

“He’s a big part of our team,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said of deGrom, who has thrown 18 1/3 straight scoreless innings. “Whatever happens, we can’t sit here and worry about it, cry about it or whatever. That’s not going to do us any good. Somebody’s going to have to step up if we get some bad news.”

The news has been pretty good lately for the Braves, who are in first place for the first time since April 14, 2015. Atlanta has gotten off to a hot start despite facing eight ace-caliber starters — deGrom, Syndergaard, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Yu Darvish. Jose Quintana and Aaron Nola — 12 times in the first 29 games.

“It’s just like every night, it seems like we’re facing a Syndergaard or deGrom or Scherzer, Strasburg,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said following Wednesday’s game. “It just keeps coming at you against really good teams. I’m proud of the way the guys have hung in there. We’ve been competitive, we’ve been in every game and we’re kind of giving ourselves a chance to win.”

Vargas and Teheran will be looking to bounce back from subpar outings.

Vargas took the loss in his season debut Saturday, when he gave up nine runs over 3 2/3 innings as the Mets fell to the San Diego Padres 12-2. Vargas, who signed a two-year deal with New York in February, missed the first four weeks of the season recovering from a broken right hand suffered March 16.

Teheran didn’t factor into the decision Friday, when he gave up three runs over three innings as the Braves lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 7-3. He left because of tightness in his right upper trapezius but felt fine while throwing this week.

Vargas is 0-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two career appearances (one start) against the Braves, but has not faced them since 2006. Teheran is 8-5 with a 2.44 ERA in 21 games (20 starts) against the Mets.