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NYM@WSH: Niese fans eight over seven strong innings

Not much has gone right for the Mets in the early part of the season's second half. Just hours after putting Johan Santana on the disabled list on Saturday, the Mets dropped their second straight game to the Dodgers and their seventh overall in eight tries since the All-Star break.

With the Dodgers having already clinched the series victory entering Sunday's finale at Citi Field, New York will simply look to salvage a win when it sends Jon Niese to the mound. Niese turned in the best start of any Mets pitcher so far in the second half on Tuesday against the Nationals, but it wasn't enough as he was left with a no-decision in the 5-4 loss.

The lefty will be charged on Sunday with trying to help the Mets avoid suffering their second sweep in three second-half series. Niese would gladly take a repeat of his last start -- one in which he allowed just one run over seven innings, while notching eight strikeouts -- albeit with a different end result.

If the results continue to stay consistent with the ones the Mets have been getting lately, however, it could alter the way general manager Sandy Alderson approaches the upcoming July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"It's not a question of what we need to see on the field to make us buyers, it's what we see on the field that causes us not to be buyers," Alderson said before Saturday's loss. "The presumption here is that we're buyers, and it has been. Realistically, the next seven, eight, 10 games become important for us."

The Dodgers, meanwhile, will counter with young right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, who will be hoping his teammates can provide some rare run support. Eovaldi (1-6, 4.33 ERA) has had his share of struggles on the mound, but it doesn't help that his Dodgers teammates have mustered just 11 combined runs in his nine starts.

Despite starting 0-2, the 22-year-old righty actually posted a solid 1.82 ERA through his first four starts. That success quickly faded, though, as he's recorded a 6.59 ERA in his five starts since.

"I don't think [opposing hitters] are figuring him out," manager Don Mattingly said. "You make mistakes, you get hit. ... He's going to keep growing into a better pitcher."

Dodgers: Ellis set to return on Sunday
• Catcher A.J. Ellis plans to be back in the Dodgers' lineup for Sunday's series finale, one day after an MRI on his left knee came back negative.

The sore knee that has plagued Ellis for more than a week swelled up after he played 12 innings on Wednesday and endured a cross-country flight on Thursday. He was given a scheduled game off Friday night, but then also sat out on Saturday.

"The MRI came back really good," Ellis said before Saturday's contest. "There is cartilage inflammation. Smartly, against my judgment, they want me to rest another day and get ready for [Sunday]. It's been a little sore for 10 days."

Mets: Hefner recalled for bullpen depth
• To counter Santana's placement on the disabled list on Saturday, the club recalled right-hander Jeremy Hefner from Triple-A Buffalo. Hefner jumped right into action, pitching two innings in relief. But it's unclear how long he'll remain with the Major League club.

With Hefner pitching two innings of relief on Saturday -- and struggling in his three starts with the Mets earlier this season -- another roster move is likely in the coming days to add a starter. If Hefner doesn't assume Santana's spot in the rotation, top prospect Matt Harvey could get the call to make his Major League debut.

"We needed to get somebody here for [Saturday]," Collins said before Saturday's loss. "Jeremy's here, and we'll certainly address that when the game is over because there has to be another move that is made [for the rotation]."

Worth noting
• Juan Uribe (0-for-8) and Jerry Hairston (0-for-6) are both hitless in their careers against Niese.

• With the teams splitting the first six meetings this season, Sunday's matchup will decide the winner of the season series. The Mets are 6-2-4 in the head-to-head matchup dating back to 2000.

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