WASHINGTON -- The Mets haven't been able to get all the way through a game with their desired pitching setup in quite a while. Jonathon Niese started well Saturday night, though, and closer Frank Francisco finished strong, a rare full-game effort from the pitching staff.
It was even more welcome given that Nationals starter Edwin Jackson had his best stuff as well. The Mets managed only three hits, but still squeaked out a 2-0 win over the National League East leaders on the strength of 71/3 shutout innings from Niese, a two-run, opposite-field homer by Ike Davis in the seventh inning, and Francisco's first save in two weeks.
"It seems like when we need him the most, that's when he steps up," manager Terry Collins said of Niese (10-6), who pitched into the eighth for the second straight start, scattered five hits with zero walks while striking out seven. "Tonight we needed him again and he gave us a real good outing."
Niese's roughest inning was the first when he allowed one-out singles to Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmermann. But he got Michael Morse on a fly to right and Adam LaRoche on a grounder to second, and the pitchers' duel was off and running.
"Everything felt good," said Niese, who has gone at least six innings in 14 consecutive starts now. "[Catcher Josh Thole] called a great game, we had a game plan of working in and out. I just executed my pitches."
Niese said he's feeling better now than he did earlier in the season and certainly than earlier in his career, when he struggled to finish a season consistently.
"I was really struggling with dead arm in May," he said. "I feel maybe as good or better than I did even in April."
Jackson's only hiccup through six innings was a one-out triple by Mike Baxter in the first -- Jayson Werth, starting in center rather than Bryce Harper, barely missed on a diving catch attempt on Baxter's gapper -- and the Nationals' righthander got out of that jam quickly. He struck out 11 over seven innings, a season high.
"Oh man, he was nasty," Davis said. "Throwing all four pitches for strikes; his fastball was moving everywhere."
Jackson walked David Wright to start the seventh and then left a fastball somewhere Davis could handle it. Davis sent the ball over the leftfield wall for his 22nd home run.
"I wasn't trying to go anywhere. I was just trying to hit the ball," he said. "We didn't do a very good job of that."
Niese was already over 100 pitches through seven, but Collins left him in to hit in the eighth and then ran Niese back out to face Harper, who came on as a defensive replacement in the top of the inning. Niese got Harper on a fly to center and gave way to Jon Rauch, who got two outs to give him 21 appearances with one total run allowed.
Francisco was a bigger question mark, having been lifted in the ninth in his previous two appearances. After getting Friday night off, Francisco came on to close out the game.
He looked a bit shaky as Zimmerman took a fastball deep to rightfield, but Baxter tracked it down by the fence. Francisco then struck out Morse and got LaRoche on a weak bouncer to first for his 20th save, but just his second since June 22.
"It's a big lift for us," Collins said. "We need our closer."
The Mets need every one of their pitchers in sync. Saturday night was the first time in a while they had that.