Little by little, Mets lefthander Jon Niese is feeling like himself again.
Consider Friday night's 5-2 victory over the Padres, in which he racked up nine strikeouts in six innings in his second start since coming off the disabled list.
Before landing on the shelf with a partially torn rotator cuff, Niese found himself in a diminished state, unable to fully recover between starts. Opposing hitters took advantage of those vulnerabilities.
But against the Padres, Niese (5-7) maintained the velocity and the sharpness of his pitches, allowing him to come within one strikeout of matching his career high.
Mets manager Terry Collins said he wanted to push Niese to build up his stamina. It's why he let the lefty work through the sixth inning -- even though he needed 111 pitches to do it. Niese responded by emerging from the start feeling physically strong.
"All game, my arm felt great,'' Niese said. "I didn't feel anything in my shoulder.''
The Mets chased Padres starter Ian Kennedy (4-9) after 42/3 innings. He surrendered five runs, including back-to-back homers in the third by Marlon Byrd and Ike Davis that pushed the Mets' lead to 3-1.
It was Byrd's 19th of the season, bringing him within one of tying his career high. Davis, who has shown signs of breaking out, hit his first homer since July 26 at Washington.
"I finally caught up to one,'' said Davis, who jumped on a fastball over the plate. "Obviously, it felt good.''
Daniel Murphy added his 10th homer, a two-run shot in the fourth. Backup catcher Anthony Recker finished 3-for-3 with a double, a walk and a run scored after he was pressed into emergency service.
Starter John Buck left the team a few hours before first pitch to join his wife in New York for the birth of their third child. Top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud will join the team Saturday and might remain with the Mets the rest of the season. For Recker, Friday's game might have been his final start with the Mets.
"I just hope I can go out there and prove that I belong here and that I can help the team win a game,'' said Recker, whose three hits represented a career high.
But Recker's contributions extended to behind the plate, where he helped Niese piece together a strong start.
"Early on, he had really good stuff,'' Recker said. "His stuff was sharp.''
Niese recorded his first six outs via the strikeout. One of his few blips came in the third when Will Venable hit a solo homer. Even when he encountered some jams, Niese powered through, an encouraging signs that he finally might be past the shoulder issues that had derailed his season.
Said Recker: "He did a great job battling and of still making pitches with what he had.''
Notes & quotes: Mets starting pitcher Jeremy Hefner might require Tommy John surgery to repair a partial tear discovered in the MCL in his right elbow, general manager Sandy Alderson said. Hefner (4-8, 4.34 ERA) is scheduled to be examined Monday . . . Rookie infielder Wilmer Flores is expected to be available to start Saturday's game against the Padres. He has been limited to one pinch-hitting appearance since spraining his right ankle last Monday . . . Reliever LaTroy Hawkins nailed down his fourth save of the season in his first outing since taking a comebacker to the groin on Wednesday against the Dodgers.
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