Against the Rays last Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha gave up more than three runs in a game for only the third time in 23 career starts. He yielded four runs on four hits over five innings, walking four and suffering his fifth loss of the season.
"Michael has been very consistent," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said after that game. "Regardless of what his record shows, he's done a nice job keeping us in games. Tonight was one of the blips on the screen that you just have to get past."
Wacha hopes to prove that Wednesday's start was, indeed, a blip on the screen when he takes on the Mets on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium. In two career starts against New York, Wacha is 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA (four earned runs in 10 innings pitched).
The 22-year-old is scheduled to be opposed by left-hander Jon Niese, who brings a 1.99 ERA (five earned runs in 22 2/3 innings pitched) during June into the start, not to mention a 4-1 record with a 1.87 ERA in six career starts against St. Louis. He beat the Cards to earn his first win of the season back on April 23 at Citi Field, going 6 2/3 innings and allowing an earned run on six hits, walking two and striking out three.
Niese will look to replicate the performance from his last outing, in which he tossed 7 2/3 stellar innings, allowing one run on six hits while walking one and fanning eight against the Brewers on Thursday. He'll also hope for a different outcome, as his excellent start was nullified when the Mets' bullpen gave up four runs in the 13th in a 5-1 loss.
"It is frustrating," Niese said afterward. "You want to win all of them. But I guess that's just the way it goes. That's part of the game, and as starters we just try to keep the team in the game, give them a chance to win, give them a chance to get that big hit."
The big hit has been hard to come by for New York so far in 2014, as the Mets are hitting .224 with runners in scoring position this season. They're also 8-17 in one-run contests.
Mets: Collins experiments with eighth spot in lineup
Manager Terry Collins experimented with inserting his starting pitcher into the eighth spot in the lineup for Monday's series opener with the Cardinals, penciling Jacob deGrom ahead of Eric Young Jr., who came off the disabled list and made his first start since May 24.
Collins may have Niese hit in the eight-hole on Tuesday as well, given that Niese handles the bat well despite his .048 batting average this season. Collins said Monday that he will only be utilizing the strategy, which makes Young into a second leadoff hitter in front of Curtis Granderson, when his better-hitting pitchers are scheduled to take the mound.
Collins also said he hopes the strategy will pay dividends in the form of more RBI opportunities for Daniel Murphy, David Wright and Bobby Abreu.
Cardinals: Jay batting second
Center fielder Jon Jay was moved up to the second spot in the Cardinals' batting order in Monday's 6-2 win over the Mets. Matheny said he likes Jay in that spot given his on-base percentage, which is .367.
Matheny moved second baseman Kolten Wong, who had regularly been in the second spot, down to eighth.
"Jon Jay has been putting together some real good at-bats and getting on base. Getting on base is the key for us at the top of the order," Matheny said. "Kolten had a real big day for us [Sunday]; that triple helped us add on. But overall, I think it's going to be something that just stays fluid. There is nothing that says that Kolten needs to be in the spot. When he's going well, I think he fits in it well. When there's time when he's just trying to find his rhythm, I don't think there is anything wrong with putting him in a different spot."
Jay was on base three times in Monday's win, going 2-for-3 with a double, a walk and three runs scored.
• Matt Carpenter is 4-for-7 (.571) with two doubles in his career against Niese. Yadier Molina has also had success against the left-hander, going 5-for-13 (.385) with a double against him.
Allen Craig and Matt Holliday have struggled against Niese. Craig is 1-for-8 (.125) and Holliday is 2-for-12 (.167).
• Among active pitchers who have started at least 131 games, Niese has surrendered the second-fewest career home runs (75). Doug Fister of the Nationals has allowed the fewest (72).
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.