NEW YORK -- It has been 49 days since Terry Collins sat at his postgame news conference with watery eyes, overwhelmed by his decision to let Johan Santana continue pitching deep into the night for the first no-hitter in Mets history.
Collins feared further harm to Santana's surgically repaired left shoulder. In that sense, he is in the clear -- Santana is healthy. But the southpaw has not been the same since.
A 7-6 loss to the Dodgers on Friday at Citi Field was the latest evidence, as Santana allowed six runs in only three innings, prompting Collins to consider methods of resting the 33-year-old lefty. That could mean simply skipping one start, or multiple by sending Santana to the disabled list, where he spent all of last season.
Collins expected the Mets to make a decision by Saturday morning, but the team did announce that it will recall right-hander Jeremy Hefner from Triple-A Buffalo, with a corresponding move to come.
"I'm OK; I'm just not able to execute the pitches the way I'm supposed to," Santana said after delivering his shortest outing since June 14, 2009, when the Yankees chased him after three innings in a 15-0 Mets loss. "I don't feel my best right now, but at the same time, I'm not trying to find any excuses or anything. I'm not executing my pitches. I'm not commanding my fastball, and I get behind in the count. When I try to throw strikes, I'm getting hurt. That's not the way I pitch."
Once Santana exited, a bullpen that entered the game with the National League's worst ERA at 5.03 needed to navigate six innings unscathed to make New York's rally count.
A double, the third of Daniel Murphy's four hits, plated a run in the fifth and the Mets scored again in the sixth, then twice more on Jordany Valdespin's two-run pinch-hit homer in the seventh. Still, the bullpen could not keep Los Angeles completely off the board. Valdespin's homer made him 4-for-22 as a pinch-hitter, with every hit clearing the fence, tying Mark Carreon (1989) and Danny Heep ('83) for the club record for pinch-hit homers in a single season.
Ramon Ramirez allowed the decisive run in the seventh inning after he walked Andre Ethier, who then stole second and scored on a Juan Rivera single. But most of the Dodgers' damage came against Santana.
In eight outings since he no-hit the Cardinals for his second shutout in as many starts, Santana has allowed 31 earned runs over 42 2/3 innings for a 6.54 ERA. He had a 2.49 ERA in his first 11 starts, including the no-hitter. He allowed four home runs in those first 11 starts but has surrendered 11 since, including two on Friday.
"That no-hitter stuff was a long time ago; I don't think that has anything to do with it," Santana said. "I'm just going through a tough time. Call it a slump or whatever it is. It's a tough time. That's all it is."
Matt Kemp hit the first homer off Santana, sending a no-doubt liner into the left-center-field seats for his 14th of the season. Luis Cruz hit the second down the left-field line for his first long ball in 69 Major League games spread across four seasons.
"It just kind of snowballed a little bit," said Mets catcher Josh Thole. "We tried to go inside to Kemp, and obviously we didn't get it in exactly where we wanted to."
Command is at the root of the issue. Santana walked three Dodgers, all in the second inning. A walk to Kemp loaded the bases, then four consecutive balls to Ethier scored Bobby Abreu to make it 4-2 after the Mets responded to Los Angeles' first-inning runs. Santana had walked in a run with the bases loaded three times previously in his career.
"It's a command issue," Collins said. "This guy has spent a whole career with tremendous command of his stuff. He's not making the pitches he needs to make."
The Mets point to Santana's last three starts more than all eight since the no-hitter -- a more recent rough patch that started after the left-hander held the Dodgers scoreless over eight innings in a June 30 win at Los Angeles.
"He pitched in L.A. after the no-hitter and shut us out [for eight innings]," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "It's hard for me to say anything."
But in three starts since, Santana's longest outing lasted only five innings. He allowed at least six runs every time, including seven in 4 2/3 innings against the Cubs. He took a loss every time but cannot find an explanation.
"He's been the same guy, really," Thole said. "I don't know what it comes down to. It's been a couple of rough starts, but his last one, he was going good and made his pitches. ... Other than that, he's been the same Johan."
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.