Mets kick off lengthy homestand vs. Padres

Fresh off a split of their six-game road trip, the New York Mets will head back to Flushing tonight to open a season-high 11-game homestand, starting with the first of four straight games versus the San Diego Padres at Citi Field.

The Mets lost two of three in Toronto before taking two of three at Pittsburgh, including Wednesday's 3-1 victory at PNC Park behind a strong performance from left-handed starter Jonathan Niese. Niese, who struggled in his last outing against the Blue Jays, held the Buccos to a run and five hits over 7 2/3 innings with five strikeouts and two walks.

"I knew that wasn't my best, that last outing," said Niese. "I just wanted to put it behind me and concentrate on fixing what I needed to fix and I thought I did that today."

Bobby Parnell got the final out of the eighth inning and Frank Francisco struck out two in a scoreless ninth for his 12th save. Kirk Nieuwenhuis went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored, while David Wright had an RBI double for the Mets. New York is 12-8 at home and will also welcome Philadelphia and St. Louis to town on the residency. It is also two games off the NL East lead.

Taking the mound in Thursday's series opener for New York will be former Padres draft pick Jeremy Hefner. Hefner made 120 starts for the Padres in the minors and will make his first start in the majors tonight. The tall righty is 0-1 with a 2.25 earned run average in two relief appearances and was tagged with the loss in Saturday's 2-0 setback in Toronto. He allowed both runs in five innings with five K's and no walks.

"I thought Jeremy was outstanding [Saturday]," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I told him so. He really pitched great. We are going to see what he can do, whether we're looking forward to it or not."

Hefner threw three shutout innings of relief versus San Francisco at home back on April 23. He posted a 2.72 ERA over seven starts at Triple-A Buffalo before being recalled last week.

San Diego resides in the basement of the NL West and will continue a 10-game road trip this evening. It was just swept in three games at St. Louis and dropped a 6-3 loss on Wednesday.

The Padres jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning before the Cardinals would score the next six runs en route to the sweep. Will Venable fell a triple shy of the cycle and both Chase Headley and Nick Hundley knocked in runs for the Padres, who have lost 12 of the past 19 games and own an MLB- worst four road wins this season.

"As an offensive club, we've got to find a way to get it back going again," said Headley, who returned to the lineup one day after taking the night off to rest a pulled muscle in his lower back.

Padres starter Jeff Suppan suffered his third straight loss and gave up five runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. He walked four and struck out one batter, while raising his ERA from 3.00 to 4.21.

"The offense did a great job scoring early and I needed to do a better job in that first inning," Suppan said.

San Diego, which will also visit the Chicago Cubs on the road trip (0-3), will send lefty Eric Stults to the mound Thursday. Stults was let go by the Chicago White Sox after two games (1 start) and made his San Diego debut in Saturday's 3-2 win over the LA Angels of Anaheim. He held the Halos to a pair of runs on four hits in 6 2/3 innings for the no-decision.

In three career starts against the Mets, Stults is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA.

The Padres and Mets are meeting for the first time since New York won four of seven matchups a season ago. San Diego has won its last two games at Citi Field.