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ATL@NYM: Niese flirts with no-no in strong outing

The Phillies get national acclaim each year because of their elite rotation. The Marlins garnered the most attention in the offseason for their new ballpark, new manager and new faces acquired through free agency. Some pegged the Nationals as the team to watch after they bolstered the rotation with the additions of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson. And in 2011, Atlanta held the National League Wild Card spot until the regular season's final day.

Now the Mets are out to prove that they belong in a division of heavyweights. To do so they'll have to play their best against their NL East rivals. They're off to a good start.

New York has won five of its first seven games, all against division rivals. The Mets swept the Braves and took the series opener from the Nationals to move to 4-0 before dropping the final two contests of their three-game set with Washington, then they topped the Phillies, 5-2, on Friday. The teams meet again at 4:05 p.m. ET on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park, with Jon Niese opposing Vance Worley.

There might not be a better time to face Philadelphia than now. Manager Charlie Manuel's club is missing the right side of its powerful infield, with second baseman Chase Utley sidelined by chronic knee problems and first baseman Ryan Howard recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon.

"We're playing in our division, so you've got to beat these guys," Mets skipper Terry Collins said. "When they don't have Utley and Ryan in the lineup, if you're going to beat them, now's the time. And I know who they're running out there. Believe me, we've seen it. We know they're very, very good, and they're very talented. But when you've got them banged up like they are, you've got to take advantage of it."

The Phillies have been holding their ground despite missing their two sluggers and not having ideal replacements at either position. Freddy Galvis, a 22-year-old rookie, has started all seven games at second base. He hit the first home run of his career on Friday but is batting just .208.

Manuel has had more difficulty finding consistency at first base, where he has started Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, Jim Thome and John Mayberry Jr.

"I'm trying to feel everything out and get to the point where our best lineup is," Manuel said. "But you can play in our lineup. Hey, if you're hot, you can play. The guy who moves the baseball earns the right to play."

• Outfielder Andres Torres, who strained his left calf on Opening Day, is not close to a return. Torres has been playing catch at the team's Spring Training complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., but he hasn't done any other baseball activities.

Assistant general manager Scott Proefrock announced on Friday that the Phils have signed infielder Mike Fontenot to a Minor League contract. The 31-year-old will report to extended Spring Training in Clearwater, Fla., next week.

Fontenot batted .278 with three RBIs in 13 spring contests with San Francisco, which released him on April 3. He hit .227 with four homers and 21 RBIs in 85 games with the Giants last season.

Worth noting
• Fifteen of the Mets' first 18 games are against NL East opponents.

• Mets reliever D.J. Carrasco has been throwing off a mound in Port St. Lucie as he recovers from a sprained right ankle, an injury sustained in mid-March. Comments