ATLANTA -- When the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves finish their four-game series Sunday at Turner Field, they'll do it without a couple of their most highly prized prospects.
The Mets optioned outfielder Michael Conforto to Triple-A Las Vegas and the Braves optioned right-handed pitcher Aaron Blair to Triple-A Gwinnett. Each had been a regular contributor to the team, but both had suffered through a lack of success that threatened to strip away their confidence.
The starting pitchers for the final game of the four-game series features Atlanta right-hander Bud Norris (2-7, 4.69 ERA) against ageless New York right-hander Bartolo Colon (6-3, 3.00). New York has won two of the three games in this series.
Norris has pitched well since returning to the rotation. In his last four games, the veteran is 1-1 with a 2.82 ERA and has pitched at least five innings in each start. Norris has appeared in nine games (seven starts) against New York, going 1-3 with a 4.47 ERA in 48 1/3 innings.
Colon left his last start after throwing four pitches when he was struck in the thumb by a line drive. Colon declared himself fit and able to take his regular turn. Colon has been a nemesis to Atlanta, going 9-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 12 career starts against the Braves.
Much of the talk Saturday night, though, centered around the demotion of Conforto and Blair.
Conforto, the team's first-round draft pick in 2014, hit .270 with nine home runs in 56 games as a rookie in 2015 and was named to the Topps Rookie All-Star team. He started nine games in the postseason and hit three home runs.
"It's very tough ... upsetting," Conforto said. "I'm not having the success I know I can have."
Conforto had a great start in April, hitting .365 with four homers and 18 RBIs, but has struggled since. He has struggled for a month, going 8-for-75 in 25 games since May 24. He was 0-for-20 against left-handed pitchers dating to May 14. For the season Conforto was hitting .222 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs.
"I know I can play here. I know I've had success," Conforto sad. "I've got to find it again."
Blair was 3-0 and pitched seven-innings of no-hit ball in his last start at Triple-A Gwinnett before being promoted to Atlanta. He was acquired in a preseason trade with Arizona that sent Shelby Miller to the Diamondbacks and was considered to be major league ready.
Blair was shipped out after allowing eight runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Mets on Friday. Blair (0-5, 7.99) became the first Braves starter to lose the first five decisions of his career since Don Collins did it in 1977.
"He probably needs to take a step back and slow things down," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. "He's got a pretty good idea of what he needs to do."
Opposing hitters were batting .305 against Blair, who had 29 strikeouts and 29 walks in 50 2/3 innings.
"He's not the first guy who has done this," Snitker said "We love the kid and he's going to be a big part of what we're doing here. He just needed to take a step back and evaluate where he's at."