NYM@PIT: Colon almost loses his helmet twice in a row

NEW YORK -- Terry Collins insists what he's doing is not "brain surgery or something." But the Mets manager is nonetheless convinced his lineup strategy works -- so convinced, in fact, that he batted the most unorthodox of pitchers eighth for Thursday's series finale against the Braves: Bartolo Colon.

"I hope this is the final time we have to answer this eighth-ninth stuff," Collins said. "Because after the first pitch of the game, it's still the same lineup."

Colon's tribulations at the plate this season have been well-documented, from his flailing swings and misses to his helmet's tendency to fly off during at-bats. The longtime American Leaguer entered Thursday's play with just two hits in 38 plate appearances, though much of his limited offensive production -- including an increased success rate on sacrifice bunts -- has come in the past month.

Still, Colon's debut in the eighth hole Thursday had nothing to do with the pitcher, and everything to do with Curtis Granderson and Eric Young. With Granderson recently cementing himself as the Mets' leadoff hitter, Collins does not believe Young offers much value batting anywhere but ninth, where he essentially becomes a "second leadoff man" ahead of Granderson, Daniel Murphy and David Wright.

"For me, E.Y. either leads off or hits ninth," Collins said.

With that in mind, Collins can stomach Colon's increased chances of coming up in a big spot if it translates into better opportunities for Young to generate rallies.

The rest of Collins' lineup Thursday was conventional, save for catcher Travis d'Arnaud's bump to the No. 5 spot. When asked if the hot-hitting d'Arnaud could stick there, Collins quipped: "That's up to Travis. If he keeps hitting, he'll be hitting third in another couple weeks."

Despite 'tired' arm, Familia seeing more work

NYM@SF: Familia fans Posey with the bases loaded

NEW YORK -- Since May 1, no pitcher in baseball has appeared in more games than Jeurys Familia (35), while few have enjoyed as much success (a 1.49 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 12 walks).

But all those accomplishments have come at a cost. Familia has spent much of this week nursing what he calls a "tired" arm, as manager Terry Collins grapples with the contrasting goals of preserving his most successful reliever while also winning as many games as possible.

"We've got to win," Collins said Thursday afternoon. "We're in situations where these are big games for us. We're very lucky that we have some good enough arms down there that we can give Jeurys last night off and still have him available for tonight."

Though Collins spent the early portion of this week fretting over Familia's recent velocity drop, he brought the right-hander into Tuesday's game at the first sign of trouble -- despite the Mets leading by seven runs with one out in the ninth. Familia complained of tenderness the next day, then again Thursday afternoon -- but said he was available to pitch if needed.

"My arm's been feeling a little tired," said Familia, who missed most of last season recovering from elbow surgery. "For me, this year is like my first year in the bullpen, because last year I started in the bullpen, but I was hurt all year. Maybe that's why I feel a little tired."

Still, a team infamous for bullpen workloads -- Pedro Feliciano led the Majors in appearances from 2007-10, and Scott Rice was on pace to do so last year before surgery interfered -- has no plans to curtail Familia's usage anytime soon. Other young assets have emerged in New York's bullpen, from closer Jenrry Mejia to right-hander Vic Black. But no one has duplicated the success of Familia, the Mets' closest thing to an All-Star snub.

"When I have other pieces, I'll stop using him," Collins said.

Worth noting

• Left-hander Jon Niese (left shoulder strain) threw off flat ground Thursday for the first time since landing on the disabled list earlier this week. Niese said he expects to make his return July 21 in Seattle.