Jason Heyward continues to enjoy a torrid stretch away from home and he’s also done well when facing Jonathon Niese, but you can’t blame the Atlanta Braves right fielder if he’s a bit timid when he steps into the batter’s box in Thursday night’s matchup.
That’s because he’ll be facing Niese for the first time since the New York Mets left-hander fractured his jaw with a pitch just over a year ago.
Atlanta (69-64) has scored three runs or fewer in six of seven games, and Heyward could be the key to getting things going as he’s hit .416 with 13 RBIs and 15 runs over his last 18 road contests.
He’s also 9 for 24 with two homers and two doubles against Niese (7-9, 3.47 ERA). But in their last matchup on Aug. 21, 2013, in New York, a fastball got away from Niese and drilled Heyward in the jaw, causing him to miss a month.
"It was tough. I wanted to elevate a fastball … and then it didn’t really slip out of my hands, but it kind of just ran in on him," Niese told MLB’s official website last August. "Obviously no intent, but I just felt bad. It’s every pitcher and every hitter’s worst nightmare."
The Braves snapped a three-game losing streak Wednesday night with a 3-2 victory despite recording five hits, one of which was Heyward’s leadoff home run.
They now go up against Niese, who has strung together three straight quality starts after recording a 5.76 ERA during a four-start losing streak.
He suffered a 6-2 road defeat to the Dodgers on Friday, though he only surrendered two earned runs in 6 2-3 innings. All three unearned runs came after a two-out throwing error in the seventh by Wilmer Flores.
"It’s part of the game," Niese said. "A lot of us have had bad days, and we’ve all been there."
Niese also took a tough-luck loss in his only start against Atlanta this year, allowing a run over six innings in a 6-0 defeat April 18. He’s posted quality starts in eight of his last 11 matchups, though he’s winless in four straight.
Fellow left-hander Mike Minor (5-8, 4.90) gets the ball for the Braves. He’s pitched much better of late, posting a 2.53 ERA over his last three starts.
Minor held Cincinnati hitless Friday until the eighth when he surrendered a two-out single on his final pitch. The 7 2-3 innings were his most since completing eight in a 3-1 loss against the White Sox on July 21, 2013.
"Just three weeks ago, I felt like I couldn’t get anybody out," said Minor, who posted a 7.33 ERA in 10 starts from June 10-Aug. 1. "I felt more focused, but I’ve felt like that the last three games."
Minor is 2-1 with a 3.08 ERA in his last six matchups with the Mets. He limited New York to two runs and two hits over seven innings in Atlanta’s 4-3, 11-inning loss at Citi Field on July 7.
New York (62-71) is hoping to get David Wright (neck spasms) and Daniel Murphy (calf) back after both missed their second straight games Wednesday. Wright tested out his neck with some indoor cage work earlier in the day.
"Today’s the day where he needs to do some stuff and to see how he comes out of it," manager Terry Collins said.
Justin Upton, who is 9 for 17 against Niese, was held hitless for the third time in four contests Wednesday following a 13-game hitting streak.