PITTSBURGH -- Tim Byrdak has appeared in 26 of the Mets' first 43 games, a remarkable feat for any pitcher -- let alone one who nearly missed Opening Day after undergoing knee surgery.

The left-hander's early workload puts him on pace for 98 appearances, which would shatter Pedro Feliciano's franchise record and rank second in Major League history. Mike Marshall holds the all-time record with 106 appearances in 1974.

These may be uncharted waters for a pitcher who has never appeared in more than 76 games in a season, and yet manager Terry Collins has no plans to slow the pace.

"For one hitter, I think he can do it," Collins said.

Unlike last year, when Byrdak regularly faced two or three batters in an outing, the left-hander has transformed into the definition of a one-batter specialist. None of his last 12 appearances have lasted longer than one batter, with Byrdak retiring every one of them.

"He's done absolutely tremendous," Collins said. "He's bought into the job he's done. He really approaches it right, and he knows how to warm up. He's not a guy who wastes it down in the bullpen. That's why I think you can use him on a day-by-day basis, because he doesn't overthrow."

Francisco returning to form in closer role

PITTSBURGH -- Since Mets manager Terry Collins put closer Frank Francisco's job security in doubt two weekends ago in Miami, Francisco converted three consecutive save opportunities -- each one of them a bit more impressive than the last. Tuesday's save was Francisco's best performance yet, with the closer mowing down the side in order for the first time since May 7.

"Honestly, I haven't changed anything," said Francisco, who made it four saves in a row in Wednesday's 3-1 win over the Pirates. "I've gotten a little bit of luck."

But Francisco did admit that he has been better able to keep his pitches low in the zone, preventing opposing batters from barreling them up. When Collins spoke to Blue Jays manager John Farrell over the weekend in Toronto, Farrell's message about his former closer was clear:

"He knows what I've been watching and he said, 'Be patient, because it's there,'" Collins recalled.

Though Francisco still holds a 6.75 ERA on the season, he has been showing more and more flashes of his old successful self. It is worth noting also that his 11 saves in 13 opportunities ranked third in the National League entering Wednesday, despite a rough patch earlier this month.

"This wasn't the first time that this happened to me, and I know it's not going to be the last time," Francisco said. "If you stay around, you're going to see a lot of those bad games."

Torres out of lineup for second straight day

PITTSBURGH -- A routine day off for Andres Torres has turned into something more, with Mets manager Terry Collins benching his starting center fielder Wednesday for the second consecutive day. Collins intercepted Torres on his way into the clubhouse Wednesday morning to relay the news.

One day after delivering a critical double to spark the game-winning rally, Mike Baxter was back in the leadoff spot for the second time this season. Kirk Nieuwenhuis started in center.

"He probably needs another day right now," Collins said of Torres. "He's working on a few things."

Mostly, Torres is working on finding a comfortable spot at the plate. After roaring out to a .333 batting average and .429 on-base percentage over his first 10 games of the season, Torres has slid into a massive slump. The center fielder is 1-for-34 dating back to May 12, reaching base less than a quarter of the time.

Compare that to Baxter, who is batting .378 overall, including 5-for-13 with three extra-base hits over his last three starts. Baxter has now started four of New York's last five games in left field, and though he has also thrived in his role as a pinch-hitter, the Queens native is beginning to make some wonder if he can force his way into more regular playing time.

"There's nothing etched in stone," Collins said. "The way he's swinging the bat, I'm trying to get his bat in the lineup. Right now, I'm trying to get a lineup that's going to score some runs."