Braves-Mets Preview

Jonathon Niese is pitching like an Opening Day starter

again.

The New York Mets will look to reward him with his third

straight win when they host the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday.

It will mark Niese’s first start at home since June 15 because

he missed nearly two months with a partially torn left rotator

cuff. When he went on the disabled list, Niese (5-6, 4.25 ERA) had

three wins in 14 starts.

“We knew that there had to be something wrong, that something

wasn’t right,” Mets manager Terry Collins told the team’s official

website. “This guy’s too good a pitcher.”

The left-hander is 2-0 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts since

returning. He pitched six innings of one-run ball and struck out a

season-high nine in a 5-2 victory over San Diego on Friday.

After allowing leadoff hits in the first and second innings,

Niese came back to strike out the next three batters both times. He

gave up a hit in every inning, stranding runners on second and

third in the fourth and fifth.

“I felt like I was able to locate my pitches where I wanted to

early, and then late I kind of got away with a few things,” Niese

told the Padres’ official website.

Niese had a 2.97 ERA in 12 starts against the Braves heading

into 2013, but he’s allowed 10 runs in 7 1-3 innings in two

matchups this season.

Freddie Freeman is 8 for 24 off Niese with two home runs and two

doubles, while Jason Heyward is 9 for 22 with two home runs and two

doubles of his own.

Like Niese, rookie Alex Wood (2-2, 2.61) is coming off a fine

performance. He allowed one run and struck out a career-high nine

over 6 1-3 innings as the Braves beat Washington 3-2 in 10 on

Friday.

The left-hander now returns to Citi Field, where he allowed four

runs and eight hits over 4 1-3 innings while not receiving a

decision in a 7-4 loss July 25.

Since that unsuccessful return to the rotation, Wood is 2-0 with

a 1.78 ERA in four starts.

He will have to contend with a red-hot Marlon Byrd, who hit a

go-ahead home run Tuesday night as the Mets won 5-3 in the opener

of this two-game series. Byrd is 15 for his last 39 (.385) with

four home runs, four doubles and 10 RBIs.

“I’m just glad I can come out and help the team,” Byrd said.

“Hit big homers, not just like selfish homers, ninth inning, down

by 10. Getting home runs that help the team win.”

Catcher Travis d’Arnaud, announced as the team’s starter despite

John Buck’s return from paternity leave, recorded his first career

hit – a double in his 11th at-bat.

“It was definitely weighing on me a little bit,” d’Arnaud

said.

Mets outfielder Eric Young had two stolen bases, setting a

career high with 28, and has five over his last five games.

Since winning 14 straight, the Braves (76-49) have scored three

runs or fewer six times while going 5-4 in their last nine

games.

They could use the services of Justin Upton, the team leader

with 23 home runs who hasn’t played since going 0 for 6 with five

strikeouts Saturday against Washington. He was held out of the

lineup Tuesday with stiffness around his neck.