Terry Collins is like most other managers in that he preaches taking the season one day, one series at a time, and that if the Mets do that and play the way they're supposed to play, then maybe they can even make something out of staying on the fringes of the National League East race.
It's hard, though, not to look at the slightly bigger picture right now. The Mets are at the beginning of a 10-day stretch in which they will play the NL East-leading Nationals six times. After a win by New York on Tuesday, the second of those games comes Wednesday, when lefty Jon Niese and righty Doug Fister take to the Nationals Park mound.
Considerable success during this week and a half would be a boon to the Mets' confidence, especially in terms of competing within the division. Not being able to seize the opportunity could dash any lingering hope of contention in 2014. The Mets enter Wednesday's contest seven games back of the Nationals after taking the series opener, 6-1.
"You better worry about winning two out of three," Collins said. "[The Nationals are] pretty good. We've got to play them six times in 10 days, so we've got to make the most of it if we're expecting to get back in this race."
Standing in the way of the Mets doing that is Fister. With a 2.68 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP, Fister has been arguably the best starter in Washington's rotation, which is one of the best in the Majors.
His only career start against New York came last August when he spun 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball for Detroit.
In his most recent start, Friday against Philadelphia, Fister limited the Phillies to two runs in seven innings, the fourth straight outing in which he allowed two or fewer runs. One of Philles' runs came on a Marlon Byrd homer.
"I left it over the plate a little bit too much," Fister said afterward. "I was kind of surprised that he took it the other way."
Niese, meanwhile, is fresh off one of the more bizarre outings of his season. He needed just 87 pitches to get through eight-plus innings, but he also gave up five runs (three earned). The two unearned tallies were the result of his own throwing error. The only other significant mistake was an 88-mph fastball he left over the plate that Hunter Pence punished for a two-run triple.
"It was good today to get into that ninth inning and fight through some of that end-of-game fatigue," Niese said Friday.
It was the first time in two months he tossed eight innings.
In three starts since returning from the disabled list, Niese owns a 4.74 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP. Opponents are hitting .325 with a .455 slugging mark off of him.
Mets: Nieuwenhuis hoping fourth time's the charm
With the right-handed Fister on the mound for the Nationals on Wednesday, there's a good chance Kirk Nieuwenhuis will make an appearance in the starting lineup. The Mets plan to find time for Nieuwenhuis, Eric Young Jr. and Chris Young in left field.
For Nieuwenhuis in particular, this season has been the most hectic of his career. Four times, the Mets have shuttled him onto the big league roster from Triple-A Las Vegas. They most recently called him up after Monday's game, designating unproductive veteran Bobby Abreu for assignment.
"The thing is it's such a long season, when you have injuries and stuff like that ... it's going to happen," Nieuwenhuis said. "I don't care who you are. You need to realize teams need a lot of guys."
Nieuwenhuis' pinch-hit single in the eighth inning Tuesday plated Travis d'Arnaud.
Nationals: Lefty Thornton added to 'pen
Lacking a clear-cut power lefty in their bullpen, the Nationals received Matt Thornton from the Yankees on Tuesday after making a waiver claim on the left-handed reliever.
Thornton, 37, comes to Washington after posting a 2.55 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP while striking out 20 and walking six in 24 2/3 innings for New York.
"He gives us another power option out of the bullpen," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He is a hard thrower. He has had great success against lefties and righties in his career."
The Nationals are Thornton's fourth team in the last 13 months.
• The Nationals placed catcher Wilson Ramos on paternity leave after his wife, Yeli, gave birth to the couple's first child, a girl, on Tuesday. The club doesn't know when Ramos will return, but he can be out for up to three days.
• David Wright has a nice little four-game hit streak to his credit, but he's still batting just .191 (13-for-68) since getting a cortisone shot in his troublesome left shoulder.
• Ryan Zimmerman's rehab for his strained right hamstring began Monday when he ran on a water treadmill. Manager Matt Williams and Rizzo expect Zimmerman to return to the lineup before the end of the regular season.
Tim Healey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.