Jonathon Niese has been one of the New York Mets' steadiest starters over the past three seasons when healthy, but now there is some cause for concern given his current struggles.
The left-hander will try to avoid the longest losing streak of his career Monday while helping the visiting Mets bounce back from a difficult defeat to take three of four from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Niese (5-8, 3.51 ERA) didn't give New York (56-62) much to worry about when he posted a 3.54 ERA in 54 starts from 2012-13 before compiling a 2.88 mark through his first 16 in 2014.
That changed when the 27-year-old went on the disabled list in early July after experiencing shoulder discomfort that had led to unsound mechanics and a dip in velocity in late June.
Niese hasn't been the same since his return, posting a 5.76 ERA while dropping four consecutive outings for the first time in his career. He's coming off one of his worst performances Wednesday when he allowed a season-high six runs over six innings in a 7-1 loss at Washington.
"It's easy to talk about the shoulda-woulda-couldas when you're struggling," Niese told MLB's official website. "I'm at the point now where my stuff's back. My arm feels great. But I'm not very consistent hitting my spots."
Niese looks to avoid a career-worst fifth straight loss as he tries to help the Mets recover after blowing a five-run lead in Sunday's 7-6 loss that snapped a five-game win streak in Philadelphia.
Ryan Howard hit a walk-off single off Jenrry Mejia as the Phillies rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth. The slugging first baseman had been 7 for 51 (.137) since July 28 and was 5 for his last 49 (.102) versus New York before his game-winner.
"Listen, Ryan's been driving in runs for a long time," second baseman Chase Utley said. "He had a knack for driving in runs and big runs. I want him up anytime there are runners on base."
Utley contributed with a home run, triple and three RBIs Sunday, but he's just 3 for 28 lifetime versus Niese. Howard, however, is 3 for 9 with a home run off him in 2014.
Niese has a 2.20 ERA in his last five starts in Philadelphia and is 4-2 with a 2.27 mark in his last 10 meetings overall. He'll face the last-place Phillies for the fourth time in 2014, going 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA in the prior three - all Mets victories.
Philadelphia (53-65) counters with David Buchanan (6-5, 4.39), who has taken injured Cliff Lee's place in the rotation.
The rookie right-hander hasn't allowed more than three earned runs over his last seven starts, going 5-2 with a 3.43 ERA. He continued that trend Wednesday when he gave up three runs over 6 1-3 innings in a 10-3 home win over Houston.
"It's an opportunity to show what he can do, to learn from it to get better and gain experience and continue to impress," manager Ryne Sandberg said.
Buchanan gave up three earned runs over 6 2-3 innings in a 4-1 home loss in his only career start against the Mets on May 29.
New York's Juan Lagares went 2 for 3 with a triple Sunday, leaving him 13 for 28 in his last seven meetings. Catcher Travis d'Arnaud is 4 for 12 with two home runs in this series after hitting a solo shot Sunday.