By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- The New York Mets were one of the biggest surprises of the first half of the season.
They were dealt a different kind of curveball during the All-Star break.
The Mets will try to overcome yet another injury to a member of their strong rotation as they visit the Atlanta Braves for the opener of this three-game set Friday night.
Not much was expected of New York (46-40) this season after it lost 85 games last year, but the club has remained in contention thanks in large part to a rotation that ranks third in the majors with a 3.55 ERA.
"I know right now we're in the hunt, and we like our chances because we like our club," manager Terry Collins told the team's official website. "If our pitching holds up, I'm thinking that on Oct. 3, we'll feel pretty good about it, whatever happens."
Maintaining that level of confidence, however, was made more difficult after the Mets announced Dillon Gee will undergo surgery Friday to replace a portion of a damaged artery. The right-hander was released from a New York hospital Wednesday after undergoing a procedure to break up a blood clot in his pitching shoulder.
The clot was discovered after Gee complained of numb fingers on his right hand following eight strong innings in a 3-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.
Gee, 6-7 with a 4.10 ERA, is likely to become the second member of the rotation to miss the rest of the year after Mike Pelfrey underwent elbow surgery in May. Gee was scheduled to start Friday in place of Johan Santana, who was moved to Sunday due to a twisted ankle.
"Big blow for us, but we all here are certainly hoping and praying that he gets back 100 percent healthy for next spring," Collins said.
Chris Young (2-2, 3.41 ERA) will take the mound instead, and he returned from major shoulder surgery last month.
Despite notching his fourth straight quality start, the right-hander was a 9-2 loser to Philadelphia on July 4. Young allowed three runs - two homers - in seven innings with no walks and three strikeouts.
The Braves (46-39), four games back of NL East-leading Washington, closed the first half with four straight wins, including a 4-3 victory at Philadelphia on Sunday.
Leading the way during the run has been Brian McCann, who has homers in each game and 11 total RBIs. McCann, who homered in five consecutive games July 15-19, 2006, has matched his home run production from the previous 43 contests, but he won't play Friday after being placed on paternity leave hours before the game.
"I've been working really hard to stay consistent," McCann said. "I've been feeling really good at the plate. Hopefully, I can continue this and help the team win in the second half of the season, because the first half, I was as bad as I'm going to get."
Tim Hudson (7-4, 3.56) looks to win for the fourth time in five starts. He rebounded from a dismal outing by limiting the Phillies to four hits over seven innings in a 5-0 victory last Friday.
Hudson is 1-3 with a 5.85 ERA in his last five home starts, but he's won four of his last six there against the Mets behind a 2.54 ERA.
The right-hander has also limited All-Star third baseman David Wright to a .206 average with two homers in 63 at-bats. Wright ranks third in the NL in average (.351) and fifth in RBIs (59).
Updated July 13, 2012