After a breakout 2013, lefty starter Mike Minor has been inconsistent at best for the Braves this season. But if last Friday was any indication of things to come, the Braves' playoff chances in September could be considerably higher.
Minor will take the ball Thursday in the rubber match with the Mets and hope to keep his momentum from his last outing. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Reds before Billy Hamilton broke up history -- and ended Minor's night-- with a two-out single. In effect, the 26-year-old became the first opposing pitcher to take a no-hitter into the eighth inning at Great American Ball Park.
"I'd say it was probably the fourth inning when I noticed no hits up there," Minor said after the start. "But my main concern was the 1-0 game ... because I feel like we need to win every game right now."
That mentality usually isn't an exaggeration this time of year, especially as the Braves chase the Giants for the second National League Wild Card spot. They'll especially need Minor, who credited an adjustment to the mental side of his game for his recent turnaround, aided by a talk he had with manager Fredi Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell.
"It was kind of, 'Let's start fresh right here and finish the season strong,'" said Minor, whose outing Friday was his longest since July 21, 2013, against the White Sox, when he went eight innings. He also allowed one hit in a start for the first time since Sept. 5, 2012, against the Rockies.
He'll face another southpaw Thursday in Jon Niese, who didn't have quite the same success Minor had Friday night. Niese battled through 6 2/3 innings against the Dodgers, allowing five runs, just two earned, mostly the result of some shaky defense that committed three errors.
Niese, who hasn't pitched less than six innings in five August starts, will potentially have a different group of infielders behind him Thursday night, as third baseman David Wright and second baseman Daniel Murphy sat out for the second straight game Wednesday with neck and calf injuries, respectively.
"I'm sure they'll get looked at again today because they've both got stuff," said manager Terry Collins, indicating that Wright was feeling better after taking some swings Wednesday.
"[Murphy's] is a situation you have to be very careful of because if that thing gets worse, he's going to miss a lot more than one or two days," he said.
Braves: Struggling Johnson gets break
Mired in a slump that has extended nearly three full weeks, Chris Johnson had no problem with the fact that he was not in Wednesday night's starting lineup. The unselfish Braves third baseman came to Citi Field well aware of the fact that he had previously struggled against Mets starting pitcher Zack Wheeler.
"I have no problem with that," Johnson said. "If I'm not going good against a starting pitcher out there or I'm struggling or whatever, whatever we have to do. I just want to win."
Given that he had notched two hits in 17 previous at-bats against Wheeler, Johnson knew the odds of breaking out of his funk on Wednesday were not favorable. But as September approaches, he remains hopeful that he will produce a strong finish to a season that obviously been much more trying than his surprising 2013 season.
Johnson exceeded all expectations when he batted .321 -- the NL's second-best mark -- with a .358 on-base percentage and .457 slugging percentage last year. These numbers trumped the career averages -- .276/.315/.430 -- he had carried into the season.
Mets: Black experiencing neck issues from bone spurs
Neck injuries have recently become prevalent in the Mets' clubhouse, most recently claiming reliever Vic Black as a victim.
Black was unavailable Wednesday after undergoing an MRI on his neck, which has pained him for the better part of a week. The right-hander said he has bone spurs growing on vertebrae in the neck, causing irritation. But he does not expect to miss significant time.
"I've just got some stiffness that came up in Oakland and I'm dealing with it right now," Black said. "As it pertains with getting back in a game, I think it's day-to-day. I've got today off and we heated it up and got some medication going, and we'll hopefully knock it out real quick so it doesn't linger."
Black is the latest Mets player to endure a bout of neck irritation, joining Wright and outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
• The Mets have hit a home run in a season-high eight straight games, the longest streak since they opened the 2013 season with a home run in 12 consecutive games.
• Jason Heyward hit a leadoff home run Wednesday night, and the Braves are 67-44 since last season when he's hit at the top of the order.
Jake Kring-Schreifels is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.