NEW YORK -- Shaun Marcum has seen better days and better season debuts.
Marcum, sidelined by a neck injury for the first three weeks of the year, came off the disabled list to make his first start for the Mets on Saturday, and it was a brief one in a 9-4 loss to the Phillies. Marcum worked four innings, and Philadelphia notched six runs against the Mets' bullpen.
New York's relief staff has a 5.28 ERA, the highest of any National League team, and the starting rotation has had its own struggles. If you exclude staff ace Matt Harvey, the Mets have seen their starting pitchers work to a 3-8 record and a 4.93 ERA in the season's first month.
"Our starters have got to get us deeper in the game," said Mets' manager Terry Collins, explaining how the rotation has helped to adversely impact the bullpen. "We're using guys in the fifth and sixth innings that should be pitching in the seventh and eighth. ... We're not getting many runs to work with, either. It seems like in a lot of the games it's 2-2 or they can't give up too many runs."
That was definitely the case again Saturday, but the Mets knew it going into the game. Marcum hadn't thrown more than 75 pitches during Spring Training or during his recovery from his neck ailment, so Collins wanted to make sure that he didn't throw more than 85 or 90 pitches in his debut.
The veteran never got a chance to reach that pitch count because he fell behind early, and the Phillies iced the game with a five-run rally in the fifth inning. Domonic Brown drilled a three-run homer off reliever Robert Carson in the fifth, and one pitch later, John Mayberry Jr. hit a solo shot.
"Today, he just didn't get his breaking ball over or his changeup over," said Collins of Carson. "When you're facing guys with one pitch that are that good, you're going to get hurt. He got hurt."
"It comes with the territory. It's how you bounce back from it," said Carson, who allowed five earned runs. "I've just got to go out each day and make my pitches, hit my locations. I know if I miss my locations, that will happen. Especially here, at this level. I've got to hit my spots."
Marcum, who signed with the Mets in January, showed mixed results. The ex-Brewer threw strikes and escaped the first two innings without any damage. But the Phillies scored three times in the third, with Chase Utley doubling in one run and Ryan Howard adding a sacrifice fly.
Marcum wound up throwing 71 pitches, and the Mets elected to pinch-hit for him with two outs and the potential tying run at third base in the bottom of the fourth. The veteran ended last season with seven straight starts without a loss, and he thoughtfully evaluated his debut after the game.
"It's not what I wanted, from a statistical standpoint," said Marcum. "I wasn't very efficient there in the second and third innings. My pitch count rose pretty quickly those two innings. But as far as health, everything felt pretty good. I've just got to get back to work and make sure that next time out, I'm locating my pitches, getting the ball put in play early in the count and going deep in the game."
New York hit into two double plays in the first three innings, and it had trouble keeping the game close. Ike Davis doubled and scored in the second, and he drove home the Mets' second run on a sacrifice fly. But the key point of the game undoubtedly came in the fourth inning.
Philadelphia rookie Jonathan Pettibone held the Mets to one run in the first three innings, but he worked his way into a jam in the fourth. New York scored one run and Marcum's spot came up with two outs and a man on third, but pinch-hitter Justin Turner struck out to strand the tying run.
That was the end of the day for Marcum, and the Phillies made sure it was the end of competitive action by scorching Carson for two homers in the top of the fifth. Marcum said that he would've liked to keep pitching, but he knew that the game situation didn't allow that to happen.
"Strength-wise, I feel fine," he said. "I don't know what I wound up with pitch-count wise, but I felt like I had a lot more in me. It was just a situation where we had to get Justin up there and try to get those RBIs. Everything else feels pretty good. My endurance feels pretty good."
The Mets went into Saturday as the third-highest scoring team in the Majors, but they've scored four runs or fewer in five of their last six games. New York has lost three straight games for the first time all year, and it rests just a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the NL East.
But ask around the clubhouse -- the individual players aren't panicking. The Mets are in a bit of a rough spot, but they know there's plenty of time to turn it around.
"It's not like we're playing terrible baseball. It's one or two innings that are hurting us," said catcher John Buck, who homered in the loss. "It's hard to get on everybody ... and say they're not doing their job when we are. We're just not cutting it in one inning is basically what it boils down to. It's just locking it in and getting that momentum going in our favor, rather than giving it away."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.