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By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- New York Mets manager Terry Collins took fault with Johan Santana's most recent outing.
Jeremy Hellickson of the Tampa Bay Rays only has himself to blame for his latest performance.
Coming off another pitching milestone, the Mets hope Santana can rebound from one of his worst starts of the season when he opposes Hellickson, who goes for his first victory in a month in Thursday afternoon's series finale.
Santana (3-3, 2.96 ERA) was hit hard last Friday, surrendering six runs and a career high-tying four homers in five innings of a 9-1 road defeat to the New York Yankees. That performance came a full week after he threw the first no-hitter in Mets history, a 134-pitch effort against St. Louis. Collins opted to give his ace, who missed all of 2011 while recovering from shoulder surgery, an extended break before taking the mound again.
"It's my doing, it's not his," Collins said. "We erred on the side of caution and it cost us the game."
Santana may draw some inspiration Thursday from R.A. Dickey, who set a franchise record with 32 2-3 consecutive scoreless innings en route to tossing a one-hitter Wednesday, striking out a career-high 12 in Wednesday's 9-1 win over Tampa Bay (35-27).
There's at least a chance Dickey could wind up credited with the Mets' second no-hitter. The team is appealing the scoring decision on B.J. Upton's infield single, which was misplayed by David Wright when he tried to field it with his bare hand.
"We said in the ninth inning that we've got to appeal that play. We're probably not going to win it, but ... what the heck," Collins said. "What have you got to lose except to have somebody say, 'no?'"
Santana will now try to help New York (34-29) sweep this three-game series, and he's won both of his starts at Tropicana Field while allowing one run and eight hits over 17 innings. However, he hasn't pitched there since 2006, while with Minnesota.
Santana won't be the only starter looking to show improvement, as Hellickson (4-2, 2.65) tries to win for just the second time in his last nine outings. He has a 2.55 ERA in his last eight starts, but only a 1-2 record to show for it due largely to a 2.74 run-support average.
The right-hander didn't pitch particularly well Friday, issuing a career-high seven walks while allowing one run and five hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 5-1 win at Miami.
"Helly had really good stuff, but the command just wasn't there with any of his pitches," manager Joe Maddon said.
Hellickson has an impressive 1.93 ERA in his last two home starts, but has lost both of them while the Rays have committed five errors behind him.
He's never faced the Mets, who have batted .354 and scored 20 runs in this series after hitting .199 during a 1-6 stretch.
New York first baseman Ike Davis is 6 for 10 with two doubles, a homer and five RBIs in his last four games, with four of the hits and four of the RBIs coming against the Rays. The surge has spiked his season average 23 points to .181.
Upton has put together his own impressive stretch for Tampa Bay, batting .351 with three doubles and a triple during a nine-game hitting streak. He is 10 for 22 in his career versus the Mets, but 1 for 7 against Santana.
Updated June 14, 2012