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Mets Vs. Phillies: Mets Kick Off Second Half With Telling Series

(Sports Network) - The Philadelphia Phillies sent three starting pitchers to the All-Star Game, but Friday night the club will turn to the biggest surprise in its rotation to begin the season's second half.

Vance Worley has pitched like an All-Star since rejoining the rotation in mid- June and he gets the call for the major league-leading Phils tonight in the opener of a three-game series with the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Philadelphia leads all of baseball with a 57-34 record and a collective 3.02 earned run average. Neither of those numbers are a big surprise given that Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are spearheading a rotation that was expected to be the best and deepest in the league prior to the season.

While the three aforementioned hurlers all made the National League All-Star roster, with Halladay earning the start and throwing two shutout innings in a 5-1 victory over the AL, the Phillies' rotation is minus Roy Oswalt (lower back) and Joe Blanton (right elbow). Those injuries have opened the door for Worley, who is 2-0 with a 0.72 earned run average in four starts since June 18.

Worley's last start in the majors came on July 4, when he threw seven scoreless innings to beat the Marlins. He yielded just two hits and a pair of walks, striking out six to improve to 4-1 with a 2.20 earned run average in 10 games (eight starts) this season.

"He's picked up some slack for us. We knew he could throw the ball, but the way he's been throwing the ball has exceeded our expectations," said Phillies catcher Brian Schneider about Worley.

With the All-Star break approaching, the Phils sent Worley down to Triple-A to make a start and stay on track before his expected return against the Mets. The 23-year-old righty bested New York back on April 29 with six scoreless innings, but then suffered a loss at Citi Field on May 29 after yielding eight runs -- five earned -- on 12 hits over three innings. He didn't make another major league appearance after that outing until his current run.

Philadelphia could be without a pair of All-Stars on offense tonight, however. as both outfielder Shane Victorino (thumb) and third baseman Placido Polanco (back) are on the disabled list.

Both players had to pull out of Tuesday's contest versus the AL.

The Phillies have won nine of their last 13 games, including Sunday's 14-1 victory over the Braves. That win put Philadelphia 3 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta for first place in the NL East.

The Mets are 11 games off the pace and are also dealing with injury problems. Both third baseman David Wright (lower back) and first baseman Ike Davis (left ankle) haven't played since May, while All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes is currently on the DL due to a strained left hamstring. Reyes is tied for the MLB lead with a .354 batting average, while the Mets hope to get Wright back on July 22.

New York was bested, 4-2, by the Giants in its last game on Sunday, giving the club a series loss and setbacks in three of four since a four-game win streak.

Though they insist they are not giving up on the season, the Mets did deal closer Francisco Rodriguez along with cash to the Brewers on Tuesday for two players to be named later. Rodriguez went 2-2 with 23 saves and a 3.16 ERA in 42 games this season.

"We thank Frankie for his contributions to the Mets and wish him well with the Brewers," said Mets general manager Sandy Alderson. "This trade allows us to develop and more fully utilize other members of our 2011 bullpen and offers some payroll relief as well."

The payroll relief Alderson hinted at was a $17.5 million option for Rodriguez that became guaranteed if he finished 55 games this season. He had already done so in 34 games, putting him on pace to reach the needed mark.

Terry Collins will be tasked with finding a new closer, with the manager saying on Thursday that righties Pedro Beato, Jason Isringhausen and Bobby Parnell would all get a chance to finish off games. Left-hander Tim Byrdak could also see time in the right situation.

First, starter R.A. Dickey will have to get his team into a closer situation and he hasn't lost since June 11, going 1-0 over his last five starts with a 2.33 ERA in the most recent four appearances.

The right-handed knuckleballer was solid in his last start on July 8 at the Giants, giving up two runs on seven hits over seven innings of a 5-2 win, with Dickey getting a no-decision.

The 36-year-old is 4-7 with a 3.61 ERA in 19 games this year and was battling a sore back, hurt foot and tight left gluteus muscle prior to the break, so hopefully the rest did him some good. He has split four career starts against the Phillies with a 2.25 ERA.

Philadelphia has won six of nine over New York this season, taking two of three at Citi Field from May 27-29.