The Mets have only seen Atlanta starter Alex Wood as a wide-eyed rookie with an unorthodox delivery feeling his way through his first two starts in the big leagues. On Wednesday afternoon, they will face Wood for a third time this year, but the 22-year-old left-hander has grown into one of the Braves' most consistent starters in the month since the Mets last saw him.
Wood has cruised through his last four starts, striking out 26 against just four walks in 25 1/3 innings on the way to a 1.78 ERA over that span. He will be tasked with lifting the Braves to a split of a two-game set against the Mets, who handed the Braves losses in Wood's first two Major League starts on June 18 and July 25.
After contributing out of the bullpen right away following his late May callup, Wood settled into the Braves' rotation quickly with the help of film study with the team's more veteran pitchers. He set a career high with nine strikeouts in Atlanta's 3-2 win over Washington on Friday.
"I feel like ever since I've been starting, I've been able to take advantage of the video and those things in there that [Mike Minor] has been showing me," Wood said after his last start. "Just kind of getting on the same page as [catcher Brian McCann], being able to go out there and feel like you have a game plan and you have something you want to execute when you go out there and how you go about facing these hitters."
Mets starter Jon Niese has impressed since returning from a partially torn rotator cuff that sidelined him for two months, and he is coming off a nine-strikeout performance of his own in a 5-2 win over the Padres on Friday.
"Looking at his [overall] pitching line, the hits per innings and the walks are a little up, but I thought his stuff looked better than that tonight," Padres manager Bud Black said of Niese. "He threw some cut fastballs in on the right-handers' hands that were good. Overall, he looked good."
Though they may be 17 1/2 games back of the division leaders, the Mets have given fans cause for optimism in the second half by playing .500 baseball, vaulting the Phillies for third place and showcasing some of their promising young talent. A victory on Wednesday would give New York its second three-game winning streak in the month since the All-Star break after the team managed only three streaks of that length over the entire first half.
Braves: Maholm slotted for Thursday return
• Left-hander Paul Maholm will make his return from a month-long stint on the disabled list when he starts Thursday's series opener in St. Louis, giving the Braves a veteran starter to help take the workload off the young arms that have carried them for most of this season.
"Like I said early on, I'm not a very good DL patient," Maholm said on Tuesday. "I'm just looking forward to just getting back in there and competing, and obviously we've been playing well. So obviously it's been fun to watch, but it's going to be better to be a part of it."
In his only rehab start with Class A Rome on Saturday, Maholm allowed one run on four hits over 5 2/3 innings and showed no ill effects of the bruised left wrist that has bothered him since mid-July. His return allowed manager Fredi Gonzalez to skip Minor in the rotation for a few extra days of rest before Minor's next scheduled start on Tuesday against the Indians.
• Center fielder B.J. Upton was left out of the starting lineup once again for the series opener in New York, the fifth time in the Braves' last eight games that their prized offseason free-agent acquisition has not started. Since a 4-for-5 effort against the Nationals on Aug. 7, Upton has gone 0-for-20 with 10 strikeouts in his last eight games.
• Left fielder Justin Upton was scratched from the lineup just before the start of Tuesday night's game with a left upper back strain.
Mets: Mejia, Hefner headed for season-ending surgery
• Right-hander Jenrry Mejia will have surgery within the next seven to 10 days to remove a bone spur in his elbow that has bothered him for much of the summer. The Mets expect Mejia -- who posted a 2.30 ERA in five big league starts this season before exiting Saturday's outing early when his symptoms worsened -- to be available for the start of Spring Training.
Another New York starter was lost for the season on Tuesday morning when it was determined Jeremy Hefner would need Tommy John surgery to repair the partially torn MCL in his right elbow. Hefner will seek a second opinion.
• Catcher Travis d'Arnaud went 1-for-4 on Tuesday night and collected his first Major League hit with a double to center field in the eighth inning. The Mets confirmed the highly touted prospect's hold on the starting catcher's job by optioning backup Anthony Recker to Triple-A Las Vegas on Monday, leaving veteran John Buck as d'Arnaud's backup and mentor.
• Mets first baseman Ike Davis hit his third home run since June 2 on Tuesday night, a towering solo shot off Atlanta reliever Luis Ayala in the eighth inning.
• No other National League East team has played the first-place Braves as well as the Mets have this year. Atlanta is 7-8 against New York and 28-12 against the rest of the division.
• Wood will be starting his third afternoon game of the season, all three of which have come against the Mets. Combining his work in the bullpen and as a starter, Wood has recorded a 3.55 ERA with a 1.42 WHIP over seven daytime appearances in contrast with a 2.31 ERA and .90 WHIP in 14 night games.
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.