Prior to Niese's most recent start in Cleveland -- which came in front of about 50 family members and friends and perhaps 14,000 other stragglers at Progressive Field -- Jerry Manuel was asked one of those innocuous, pregame questions about that night's starter.

The question was whether Manuel thought Niese had the sort of stuff that could have produced the one-hitter Niese threw at the Padres the start before.

"I was a little surprised at how dominant he was," Manuel said. "I thought that was a surprise."

Manuel is rarely so candid, at least when he's talking about a pitcher other than John Maine. He quickly added that he thought Niese was still "a good, young, lefthanded pitcher who's going to hit some bumps in the road."

Niese scattered eight hits and allowed three runs on Wednesday. Since his stint on the DL when scar tissue from his hamstring surgery broke up, Niese is 3-0 with a 1.56 ERA. He's relying on his curveball more and throwing it with better command; Manuel cited a better arm angle for the curve, where Niese was coming over the top more before.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Niese faces a Tigers lineup that has Miguel Cabrera making a Triple Crown run, leading the majors in homers (19) and RBI (60); Magglio Ordonez, among the AL leaders with a .333 average and a .930 OPS; and a pair of rookie outfielders, Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch, who are both hitting over .300.