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OAK@NYM: Colon whiffs eight in as many frames

The last time Aaron Harang took the hill at Citi Field, he flirted with history. The veteran no-hit the Mets in seven strong innings April 18, keeping New York scoreless despite issuing six walks.

Hoping to avoid a four-game sweep in New York, the Braves would likely settle for yet another strong outing from Harang, whose 15 quality starts are tied for the fifth-most in the Majors.

The last time Atlanta won, Harang gave up three runs in the first before toughing out seven more innings Saturday as the Braves beat the D-backs to extend what was their longest winning streak of the season at nine games.

"We had the rough first inning, but nobody panicked," Harang said Saturday. "Our confidence is real high right now and everybody is feeling good about how we're swinging the bats and playing defense. We knew guys were comfortable and that we were going to stay right in it."

Harang, who has given up two earned runs or fewer in 13 of his 18 starts, takes the hill opposite Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon. After allowing two earned runs or fewer in seven consecutive starts, Colon has struggled in back-to-back outings as a result of first-inning problems like Harang experienced against Arizona.

Colon allowed nine runs combined in the opening frame over his last four starts, including three to Pittsburgh on June 29 and four to Texas on Saturday. He has allowed only three runs in the other 25 innings of those four starts.

"I have no idea why that's been the case," Colon said after his last start. "I just work hard, work the same, work through it."

What's been impressive about those starts has been his ability to work past the initial crooked numbers. He allowed Texas just one extra run in his remaining six innings Saturday, saving the bullpen with a lengthy outing.

"He's done it before," Mets manager Terry Collins said on Saturday. "He's a professional. He knows exactly where we stand bullpen-wise and knew that we're going need some innings and he was going be in there for some. But as we've seen throughout the year with him, as the game goes on he gets better."

Mets: Granderson to bat leadoff consistently
• Three of Curtis Granderson's team-high 14 homers are of the leadoff variety, but despite his production in the top spot, Collins doesn't have any intentions of moving him down in the order.

"We had him hitting fourth for a while and nobody was getting on. I'm going to leave it where it's at right now," Collins said. "I just like him in the leadoff spot, and what he's done a few times is exactly what you want, and that's look up and it's 1-0."

Granderson is batting .276 (16-for-58) with 10 walks, 13 strikeouts and a .377 on-base percentages in 69 plate appearances in the leadoff spot this year.

Braves: Bethancourt keeping pace for injured Gattis
• Since catcher Evan Gattis hit the 15-day disabled list with a bulging thoracic disc June 30, rookie Christian Bethancourt has been filling in nicely behind the plate.

In eight games since he has been called up, Bethancourt has only gone hitless during one start, batting .281 in that span while riding a four-game hitting streak. Backup Gerald Laird -- who got the start Wednesday at Citi Field -- has been a mentor to Bethancourt, who was able to grow in a full season at Triple-A Gwinnett last year.

"Nothing has surprised me at all the way he's handled himself," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said of Bethancourt. "His English is off the charts. But defensively, all the expectations I had for him, he's exceeded those. Offensively, you see him improving, from even Spring Training, and that's just a matter of at-bats. All of a sudden he's got more at-bats, more experience."

Once Gattis returns sometime after the All-Star break, Bethancourt will likely return to Gwinnett so that he can continue to play every day.

"I don't have plans for him to play any other position," Gonzalez said. "I think we'll make the decision that Christian goes back -- he needs to play -- but I don't know when Gattis is going to be back."

Worth noting
• Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud has reached base in 13 straight games since being recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas.

• Mets third baseman David Wright is batting .423 (11-for-26) with four doubles, a home run and seven RBIs against Harang.

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