NEW YORK -- For much of the first half, Jeremy Hefner looked nearly unbeatable. Increased velocity that resulted from a mechanical adjustment turned him into a consistently reliable starter. In two starts since the All-Star break, Hefner hasn't been able to reclaim that success.
"We all look to the break as a chance to get some rest and get away from it," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Obviously coming out the break, he's not the same guy that he was going in."
In his first opportunity to bounce back from his worst outing of the season, Hefner struggled on Wednesday. He allowed six runs (five earned) on six hits with one walk and three strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings, taking his eighth loss. The Braves hit him hard, turning expansive Citi Field into a launching pad with three long home runs to beat the Mets, 8-2.
Meanwhile, the Mets' offense couldn't muster up much production against Braves starter Tim Hudson before he left the game in the eighth inning with a fractured right ankle. On that play, Eric Young Jr. hit a ground ball down the first-base line that Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman fielded and flipped to Hudson, who was covering first.
Young stepped hard on Hudson's ankle as he crossed first base, and Hudson immediately fell to the ground writhing in pain. A cart eventually had to be brought out to take Hudson off the field. Young stood to Hudson's side the whole time, and went over and spoke to him while he was on the cart.
"I'm a little bummed right now, but I was able to see Tim before they took him to the hospital," Young said after the game. "He told me it wasn't my fault, just one of those freak plays that happens. His foot was in the middle of the bag and I was hustling like I normally do and couldn't avoid him."
It was a scary situation that clearly shook up Young. After the game, Braves second baseman Dan Uggla offered support of Young.
"He plays the game hard in the right way. He's just one of those guys that you love him," Uggla said. "You could see how devastated and upset he was that he was the one who stepped on him. It was just one of those freak accident plays."
Luis Avilan came on in relief of Hudson, and the Mets got on the board with Daniel Murphy's RBI double.
That certainly wasn't enough to overcome Hefner's struggles.
In his last start against the Phillies on Friday, Hefner lasted only two innings and gave up eight runs on 10 hits. He said the problem came down to execution of his pitches.
That problem cropped up again Wednesday. Hefner is simply leaving too many pitches out over the plate in prime location for hitters.
"Really, all my pitches I haven't located very well, even the fastball against the Phillies, and moreso the breaking ball tonight," Hefner said. "It's all stuff that can be fixed."
The damage started in the second inning, when Evan Gattis turned around a pitch from Hefner and sent it into the second deck in left field. Hefner seemed to settle down after that, retiring the next seven Atlanta hitters to get to the fifth inning.
Then it only got worse for Hefner and the Mets.
Brian McCann reached on an error by Murphy and Gattis singled. Uggla then delivered the first blow, hitting a slider for a three-run home run into the left-field stands to give the Braves a 4-0 lead.
Atlanta's next hitter, Chris Johnson, hit a single. Two batters later, Andrelton Simmons hit a 2-2 curveball over the left-field wall to put Atlanta up, 6-0.
After walking Jason Heyward, Hefner's night was finished as Collins brought in Gonzalez Germen.
"Just didn't execute," Hefner said. "I felt OK. I felt better the first four innings. I just didn't execute in that fifth inning, and things sped up on me. I couldn't control it."
It was another discouraging performance considering the way Hefner was pitching toward the end of the first half. He allowed two earned runs or fewer in eight straight starts. Before his last outing, he led the Major Leagues with a 1.76 ERA between June 4 and July 18.
Earlier in the season, Hefner began twisting his body a bit more in his throwing motion, which increased velocity on his pitches. It was a small adjustment that earned him big results. His fastball reached 93 mph instead of 90.
Now that extra velocity hasn't been as frequent, and hitters are taking advantage. Hefner is confident he can correct the issue and will start commanding his pitches with the precision he did before the break.
For the Mets to string wins together, they need Hefner to get back to being a dependable member of the rotation.
"The team is playing well," Hefner said. "We're playing good defense and we're scoring runs, and I'm not holding up my end of the deal. I want to be a big contributor to this team."
Chris Iseman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.