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Solid Niese keeps Mets within striking distance

After rough two-start stretch in early May, lefty has found his form of late

NEW YORK -- Jon Niese's last start began dreadfully, but he battled through early trouble and gave the Mets a chance to win. On Monday, his night started out brilliantly but morphed into another battle, and he ended up keeping New York in perfect position once again.

At this point, that's all the Mets can ask for.

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"He got us to where we needed to get," manager Terry Collins said. "He didn't let the game get out of control, and allowed us to at least have a chance to tie it."

In a 2-1 win over the Yankees at Citi Field, Niese went seven innings, giving up only one run on eight hits. He struck out four batters and walked one. Three of his strikeouts, though, came in the first inning. Niese's night didn't remain quite as easy.

Still, he managed to make the right pitches at the right time and continuously worked out of trouble.

In the second inning, Niese gave up back-to-back singles to David Adams and Ichiro Suzuki, then walked Lyle Overbay to load the bases with one out. But Niese promptly got Chris Stewart to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.

Then in the sixth, he gave up a leadoff triple to Brett Gardner and allowed an RBI single to Jayson Nix. Limiting further damage, he got Robinson Cano to ground into a 4-6-3 double play, and after giving up a single to Vernon Wells, Niese got Adams to fly out to right field to end the inning.

"We just stayed aggressive," Niese said. "I think we worked fastballs in and off the plate, and just getting ground balls and having the defense make the plays."

Mets catcher John Buck said he really only needed to call for three of Niese's pitches all night long. Buck said Niese's command of his four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and cutter was so good that he rarely had to call for a curveball or changeup.

"I didn't really need to even go into his other stuff because he was so efficient with those pitches," Buck said.

For Collins, Niese's last start was especially significant. After a three-run first inning against the Reds last Tuesday, Niese settled down and pitched five more innings without giving up another run.

After giving up a combined 15 runs in two straight starts in early May, Niese hasn't given up more than three runs in any of his last three starts. He has a 1.33 ERA in that span.

"After the other day when he fought back from that bad inning, and kept us in the game for [six] innings, that's the Jon Niese we know," Collins said. "And today, he gave up some hits, but he hung in there and got outs when he had to."

Niese said he made a mechanical adjustment where he's focused on keeping his arm angle up, subsequently staying behind the baseball. As a result, each bullpen session and start have been better and better.

It hasn't necessarily been easy for Niese, but as long he continues to win the battles, the Mets should be in good position on days when he's on the mound.

"Obviously, there's a lot more confidence," Niese said. "It feels pretty good right now."

Chris Iseman is an associate reporter for

New York Mets, Jon Niese