NEW YORK -- Jon Niese downplayed manager Terry Collins' assertion that he has been pitching with stiffness in his lower back, saying he felt "a knot" in his back after his last start, but that it did not affect him as he gave up seven runs over four innings Sunday in Atlanta.
Niese walked six batters in that outing and now has 20 strikeouts and 19 walks in 36 2/3 innings -- by far the worst strikeout and walk rates of his career.
Regardless, Niese said, health is not the issue. He expects to make his next start as scheduled on Saturday against the Pirates.
Ike comes up clutch off bench before Friday's start
NEW YORK -- A run of left-handed pitchers had Mets manager Terry Collins stressing over his lineup in advance of this weekend's four-game series against the Pirates.
Desperate to help Ike Davis emerge from his season-long funk, Collins said he wrestled with the decision to bench his first baseman Thursday against left-hander Jeff Locke. Then Davis went ahead and came through anyway, hammering a tiebreaking double into center field in the seventh inning after entering as part of a double-switch. The Mets went on to win, 3-2, on Mike Baxter's walk-off, pinch-hit single.
"That credit goes to the players," Collins said of his managerial decisions. "All that stuff goes to the guys who execute and play."
Davis, who entered Thursday's play with a .170 average and four home runs in 29 games, is scheduled to return to the starting lineup Friday against another lefty, Wandy Rodriguez.
"You've got to figure out some spots," Collins said. "When you try to pick your spots, it's difficult, because I want the guy in the lineup. I want him in there because I know, when he gets it going, he's going to make a big difference. But each and every day it's still about, 'How can we win this game today?'"
Collins believed the Mets had their best shot Thursday by using Justin Turner, not Davis, at first base. While Davis holds a .152 average and .442 OPS in 33 at-bats against left-handed pitching this season, Turner entered Thursday's play with .391 and .895 marks in 23 at-bats off lefties.
Turner finished 1-for-2 with a walk, while his insertion into the lineup was part of a greater plan to find him more playing time. Collins has expressed hesitancy to use the utilityman in the outfield, where Turner made his first career appearance as a late-inning sub on Wednesday.
Instead, Turner's starts should continue to come mostly at first base, at the direct expense of Davis.
"It's very hard," Collins said. "It comes with the territory here, and that's what this job is, to make some difficult decisions. When you've got a player like Ike who's struggling, you've got to get him in the lineup to get him going, and yet we're trying to do some balance here by winning some games."
Mets, Baseball Tomorrow Fund pledge Sandy help
NEW YORK -- The Baseball Tomorrow Fund and the Mets Foundation announced Thursday that they will donate up to $1 million through a relief grant program for youth baseball and softball organizations directly affected by Superstorm Sandy. The grant program will provide support for organizations to maintain or reestablish youth baseball and softball programs and facilities affected by the storm.
"Immediately after the storm, we made a pledge to help our hometown recover from Sandy," Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon said in a statement. "The recovery effort has been and will continue to be a priority for all of us at the Mets in the weeks and months ahead."
Grant applications are being accepted through May 31, with instructions and evaluation criteria available at BaseballTomorrowFund.com.
"The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy is still being felt throughout many communities in the United States, and the National Pastime is honored to continue our support of the efforts to rebuild," MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Major League Baseball is proud that the joint commitment of the Baseball Tomorrow Fund and the New York Mets Foundation will help local baseball and softball organizations recover from the storm, and all of us throughout the game hope that the donation will ease one aspect of the significant burdens on these communities."
• Left-hander Pedro Feliciano has been placed on Class A St. Lucie's disabled list with food poisoning. Feliciano missed time late last month with the issue, but returned to the mound for three more appearances before landing on the DL. He has been pitching for St. Lucie since Opening Day in an attempt to strengthen his surgically-repaired left shoulder.
• Collins said the Mets are waiting for an updated status report on Frank Francisco before determining the former closer's next step. Francisco pitched a scoreless inning Wednesday for Class A St. Lucie and is nearing activation, though he may first stop at the upper levels of the Minors.
• Matt Harvey received his National League Pitcher of the Month award prior to Thursday's game. Harvey went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in April, striking out 46 batters and walking 12 over 40 1/3 innings.