Mets-Pirates Preview

If Neil Walker was disappointed by being traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the New York Mets, it hasn't shown in his performance.

Walker returns to his hometown for the first time since being dealt for Jon Niese, who'll also make his debut against his former club in Monday night's opener of a three-game series.

In need of shedding salary and adding an experienced arm to the rotation, the Pirates sent Walker to the Mets for Niese in December. The Pittsburgh native was his hometown team's first-round pick in 2004 and spent the previous six seasons as their starting second baseman.

“I feel like I gave my all in Pittsburgh with the time I was there,” he told MLB's official website. “I was on a lot of winning teams, and made a lot of strides individually and as a group. Hopefully, I'll be received well.”

Walker seems to be feeling at home in New York, leading all NL second basemen with 13 home runs while hitting .279 in 53 games. He enters his former park with a .366 average over his last 12.

Niese (5-2, 4.36 ERA), who compiled a 61-61 record with a 3.93 ERA in eight seasons with the Mets, got his Pirates tenure off to a rocky beginning by posting a 5.94 through his first six starts. He's been sharp of late, though, going 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA over his last four.

The left-hander struck out six while allowing two runs in five innings and not factoring in the outcome of Wednesday's 3-2 loss at Miami.

“I thought he pitched a very good game,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “A solid effort.”

Niese's first encounter with the Mets comes against a lineup that's been without some of its biggest bats. David Wright and Lucas Duda are on the disabled list with potentially long-term injuries, and Yoenis Cespedes didn't start the final two games of the team's series in Miami due to a sore right hip.

New York (31-25) still put up 12 runs in winning the first two games, but its depleted order was no match for Jose Fernandez in Sunday's finale. The Miami ace matched a career high with 14 strikeouts while yielding four hits in seven innings of a 1-0 win.

“Tough day at the plate,” outfielder Michael Conforto said. “It's always going to be tough when you're going up against a guy like him.”

Cespedes did pinch-hit Sunday and could be back in the lineup for the opener. The slugger is batting .361 with four homers in 36 at-bats against lefties but is 5 for 29 lifetime at PNC Park.

The Mets may not need much offense if Steven Matz (7-1, 2.60) regains the form he displayed during a seven-start winning streak halted when he was reached for three runs in 5 2/3 innings by the White Sox on Tuesday. The 24-year-old recorded a 1.13 ERA over the streak, working at least six innings and permitting two runs or less in each outing.

Matz still hasn't lost since April 11 and remains unbeaten on the road during his brief career, having amassed a 6-0 record and a 1.82 ERA in eight regular-season starts.

He'll be looking to stop New York's seven-game skid in this series, with the Pirates winning all six 2015 matchups.

Pittsburgh (30-26) is hitting .293 while averaging five runs per game at home, though it's lost seven of nine overall after blowing a late lead in Sunday's 5-4 defeat to the Angels. After Los Angeles scored twice off Gerrit Cole in the seventh inning to pull within 4-3, Albert Pujols hit a two-run homer off Tony Watson in the eighth.