3/17/2013 2:51 P.M. ET
Niese deals strong outing, but Mets fall
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- In what is becoming a heated battle to replace Chipper Jones at third base, Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco continue one-upping each other.
Johnson homered as part of a three-hit effort Sunday, leading the Braves' 2-1 win over the Mets at Tradition Field. Battling Francisco for the right to replace the retired Jones as Atlanta's starter at third, Johnson is batting .340 with three home runs this spring.
Francisco, who entered as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning, singled in his only at-bat to increase his own average to .326. That line includes four home runs in 46 at-bats.
Johnson's homer came in the fourth against Mets starter Jon Niese, who gave up only one other hit in five innings. The Mets' presumed Opening Day starter, Niese threw 82 pitches, striking out four and walking one. After Niese left the game, Freddie Freeman singled home Jordan Schafer to give the Braves their second run.
"They made me throw a lot of pitches," Niese said. "Overall I felt good though. I was kind of nibbling with my changeup trying to work on it, and … [Johnson] has a history of hitting me well. He's a guy that I can't fall behind on. He'll make me pay for mistakes."
Equally strong was Braves starter Julio Teheran, who continues to prove his worthiness of a rotation spot. Teheran fired six innings of one-run ball, lowering his Grapefruit League ERA to 1.35. Perhaps more impressive is his 25 strikeouts against six walks in 20 innings.
The Mets' only run against Teheran came on Jordany Valdespin's leadoff home run in the first inning, his fourth long ball of the season. Another player locked in a roster battle, Valdespin's chances of making the team grew exponentially when Kirk Nieuwenhuis suffered a left knee injury earlier this month; barring some unforeseen development, Valdespin should now break camp with the team.
It helps also that Valdespin is hitting with aplomb, reaching base three times Sunday on a homer, a single and a walk. Playing second base against the Braves, the utilityman is batting .378 this spring.
Up next: Matt Harvey will look to keep padding his strikeout rate when he faces the Cardinals Monday afternoon at Jupiter. Harvey, who struck out 70 batters over 59 1/3 innings last season, has already whiffed 18 in 13 innings this spring. He will oppose Jake Westbrook in a 1:05 p.m. ET game at Roger Dean Stadium.