Cole Hamels will take the mound Sunday with an 0-3 record and five Phillies losses in his first five starts this season, both career firsts for the left-hander.
But after a sluggish start, Hamels has pitched well in each of his last three outings. And he'll welcome back a familiar face behind the plate as the Phillies go for the series sweep in Sunday's finale against the Mets.
All-star catcher Carlos Ruiz will return to the Phillies for Sunday's game against left-hander Jon Niese and the Mets. Ruiz is coming off a 25-game suspension for testing positive for an amphetamine, just in time to catch Philadelphia's three aces: Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
"He was obviously our best player last year," Lee said after his last start. "Getting him back can only help. His bat and his game calling and his leadership behind the plate can definitely help us."
Ruiz batted .325 with a .935 OPS last year, so he'll provide a dramatic upgrade over the Phillies' current catchers, Erik Kratz and Humberto Quintero. But he's been almost equally valuable behind the dish, as Hamels, Halladay and Lee own a 2.95 ERA the past two seasons while throwing to Ruiz, compared to a 3.31 mark with all other catchers.
Hamels has put together much better results in his last three outings, allowing six earned runs and striking out 19 over 21 innings, and has seemingly rebounded from the rough start that saw him post a 10.97 ERA through two starts. But the Phillies have scored just four runs in his last three outings, leaving him without a win.
"I'd have to say maybe four or five years ago, that would've been frustrating, but I know what I can control and what I can't," Hamels said Tuesday. "I'm able to go out and execute pitches, pitch deep into the ballgame, obviously try to limit the damage to keep the team in an area of being able to jump on it and get a win. That's all I can do."
It'll be on the Phillies' lineup, then, to score against Niese. The lefty's last start ended prematurely when he was struck in the leg by a comebacker in the third inning. But Niese left with only some swelling and tightness in the area, so he'll start as scheduled Sunday, looking to improve his 2-1 record and 3.81 ERA.
Niese's injury initially appeared to be much more serious, as he hopped into foul territory and sat on the ground for several moments before trying to stand up again, but X-rays came back negative.
"I certainly didn't want him to go out with a sore lower leg, then all of a sudden mess up his shoulder or something," Mets manager Terry Collins said Wednesday.
Phillies: Offense clicking in Citi Field
• After an offensive outburst in Saturday's 9-4 win over the Mets, the Phillies have won each of their last five games at Citi Field and nine of their last 12 dating back to 2011. In those 12 games, Philadelphia has scored 80 runs (6.67 per game) and hit .296 (128-for-432) with 16 doubles, three triples and 19 homers.
Overall, the Phillies are 22-16 all-time at Citi Field.
• Ben Revere sat out Saturday afternoon after missing the previous two games with left quadriceps soreness, with John Mayberry Jr. getting another start in center field in Revere's place. Mayberry entered Saturday hitless in his last 11 at-bats, then crushed a fifth-inning homer off lefty Robert Carson.
Mets: Byrd, Lagares likely to start
• With Hamels on the mound, Marlon Byrd and Juan Lagares will likely be in the Mets' starting lineup. The 24-year-old Lagares has made just one big league start to date.
Lagares was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2006 and methodically worked his way through the Mets' system, batting .283 with 21 stolen bases for Double-A Binghamton last year. He was batting .346 with three homers in 17 games for Triple-A Las Vegas prior to his promotion.
"We've got to take a look at Juan, so there's a good chance he'll be in there tomorrow," Collins said Saturday.
• Niese has held Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to a combined three hits, all singles, and three walks with eight strikeouts in 36 career plate appearances.
• For his career, Hamels is 5-10 with a 4.33 ERA against the Mets. David Wright has enjoyed the most success against Hamels, posting a .327/.352/.654 batting line with four homers, three doubles and 10 RBIs in 55 plate appearances against the lefty.
• The Mets are batting just .244 (65-for-266) with six home runs and 33 RBIs against lefties this season, including an 0-for-6 performance against Philadelphia left-hander Raul Valdes on Saturday.