(Sports Network) - It's been two weeks since the Mets won consecutive games, but after getting one of Johan Santana's best outings of the season on Tuesday the club now turns to a pitcher who hasn't lost in nearly two months.
Jon Niese shoots for a third straight winning start and sixth consecutive victorious decision this evening when New York hosts the Cincinnati Reds in the rubber match of a three-game series at Citi Field.
The Mets evened this series last night behind Santana's three-hit shutout, a 3-0 victory that also featured the left-hander's first career home run. Santana struck out five and walked three in his sixth victory of the season.
"I am throwing my fastball much better, and for me, that's the key," said Santana, whose club remained two games back of the first-place Braves in the National League East. "That's what I'm focusing on right now -- trying to be more consistent."
Jason Bay later built on Santana's long ball with a two-run single in the sixth inning as the Mets have alternated wins and losses over their last eight games and haven't won consecutive contests since June 22-23.
They should feel good about their chances tonight seeing as Niese hasn't lost since May 16. He is 5-0 with a 2.43 earned run average in six starts since a stint on the disabled list, with the Mets winning all six of those games.
The 23-year-old won his second start in a row on Friday, beating the Nationals with seven innings of one-run, six-hit ball to go along with eight strikeouts to improve to 6-2 on the season with a 3.62 ERA.
"He's making the pitches when he has to make them," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said of Niese. "Hopefully that's a sign that he's maturing right before our eyes."
Niese, a left-hander, faced the Reds for the first time in his career on May 5 and did not factor into the decision of that outing after allowing four runs on a career-high 12 hits over six frames of work.
He'll start opposite of Bronson Arroyo, who is 3-1 over his last four starts with a 2.42 ERA, having allowed two runs or fewer in each of the three victories.
That includes Friday's victory over the Cubs as the 33-year-old righty hurled six scoreless innings of two-hit ball. Arroyo might have lasted longer in the 12-0 rout, but the Reds offense put together a 35-minute seventh inning that kept Arroyo in the dugout for a while.
"There was no reason for me to push it this time of year," said Arroyo, who is 8-4 with a 4.25 ERA this season, on the Reds' website. "Obviously we're in a different position now than we've ever been in before since I've been on this club. You have to think about further down the line. A little bit of rest could help in the future."
Arroyo is 6-2 with a 3.54 ERA in 10 career starts versus the Mets, including a no-decision on May 4 in which he allowed four runs over seven innings.
Arroyo's teammate Aaron Harang was Monday's scheduled starter, but he had that outing pushed back to Tuesday. However, Harang was unable to go again and was placed on the 15-day disabled list due to lower back pain. Matt Maloney was recalled from Triple-A Louisville and took the loss, allowing three runs over 5 2/3 innings.
Cincinnati, which still leads St. Louis by two games for first place in the NL Central, fell to 4-2 on an 11-game road trip and lost for just the second time in its last seven games. The Reds have dropped seven of their last 12 overall versus the Mets and three of the last four in New York.