Jonathon Niese had a career year in 2012, a nice season in which he established himself as a potential No. 1 starter down the road.
With Johan Santana getting injured again and the New York Mets trading away Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, Niese had to take on that role a little sooner than originally thought.
The left-hander hasn't disappointed, and he'll look to continue his strong start when the Mets visit the offensively challenged Minnesota Twins to open a three-game interleague series Friday night.
Niese went 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA in 30 starts last year after the Mets gave him a five-year extension worth $25.5 million April 4, 2012. He started the opener this season and beat San Diego 11-2 by allowing two runs and four hits over 6 2-3 innings.
He was just as good in his second outing but didn't receive a decision after giving up two runs in six innings of a 7-3 victory over Miami on Saturday. Niese (1-0, 2.13 ERA) is also 2 for 4 with an RBI this season.
Catcher John Buck, one of the players acquired from Toronto in the Dickey deal, helped give the Mets the win in Niese's last start by driving in four runs. He homered for the third straight game Wednesday but the Mets (5-4) lost their second in a row, 7-3 at Philadelphia.
Lucas Duda had two solo shots for New York, which set a club record by hitting at least one homer in its first nine games. Buck leads the charge with five home runs, and he's batting .375 with an NL-best 15 RBIs.
"I knew coming into this area, New York, that things would be heightened - good, bad or indifferent," Buck told the Mets' official website. "I kind of prepared myself to try to be numb to anything, and that's how I've approached it."
Buck now gets to bat against Vance Worley (0-1, 5.73), who has only faced Buck four times despite pitching for Philadelphia while Buck played for the NL East rival Marlins the past two seasons.
Buck is 0 for 2 with two strikeouts and two walks in their matchups. Teammate Daniel Murphy, though, is 10 for 15 against Worley while Duda is 5 for 10 with a homer.
Worley, who went 3-3 with a 5.30 ERA in seven starts against New York while in Philadelphia, lost his Minnesota debut April 1 to Detroit before not getting a decision in his last outing Saturday. The right-hander gave up five runs and 10 hits over five innings of a 6-5 win at Baltimore.
The Twins (4-5) have scored nine runs in four games since that victory, including five in suffering a three-game sweep at Kansas City this week.
Minnesota stranded 12 and went 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position in a 3-0 loss Wednesday night.
"Hitting is all about timing," second baseman Brian Dozier said. "You've got to be able to hit with runners in scoring position. ... It's just our ninth game. We had two really big series against two really good teams and we know we can hit. We'll put this behind us."
Minnesota is 7-5 all-time against the Mets, who are making their first visit to Target Field.