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Pirates lefty Jonathon Niese blanks Mets in first matchup against former club

PITTSBURGH -- The New York Mets are perfectly content with their swap of Jonathon Niese for Neil Walker. Still, Niese won the first head-to-head meeting since the December trade.

Niese tossed seven scoreless innings and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Mets 3-1 in the opener of Tuesday's doubleheader at PNC Park.

“There was a little bit extra there,” Niese said. “It felt weird. But it was fun. It would have been a little bit extra fun if David [Wright] was in there. I’m rooting for him to get back, and hopefully he gets healthy.”

Walker, who received a standing ovation and acknowledged the modest crowd by waving his helmet before his first at-bat, finished 1-for-4. Walker actually sublets a Manhattan apartment from Niese.

“It was kind of a cool experience seeing how well-respected he was here,” Niese said. “At the time of the trade, I thought it was kind an honor to be a part of a trade with a guy like him. I know what kind of player he is.”

The Mets' depleted lineup was held scoreless until Curtis Granderson's leadoff homer in the eighth against Neftali Feliz. That snapped a 16-inning scoreless drought.

The Mets (31-25) loaded the bases in the fourth against Niese, but struggling No. 7 hitter Michael Conforto struck out. A left-handed batter, Conforto was in the lineup against a southpaw since Juan Lagares was sidelined (though active). Lagares is dealing with inflammation related to a partially torn ligament in his left thumb. Conforto is 3-for-his-last-34.

“I just let the two-seam run in on him and fortunately he was able to swing over it,” Niese said.

An inning later, Mets starter Steven Matz delivered the first triple by a Mets pitcher since Dillon Gee in 2013. However, Curtis Granderson and Asdrubal Cabrera consecutively grounded out against Niese to strand Matz.

Niese (6-2) matched his longest outing with the Pirates.

Matz nearly homered in first at-bat, but center fielder Andrew McCutchen settled under the shot on the warning track.

Matz (7-2) had been 7-0 in his past eight starts. He lost for the first time since his April 11 season debut. He required 101 pitches to navigate five innings, yet limited the Pirates to two runs on eight hits while recording eight strikeouts.

“I had nothing out there today,” Matz said.

Saturday brewing: Logan Verrett logged two innings in relief. This signals that Verrett will serve as a spot starter on Saturday in Milwaukee, not Friday. Manager Terry Collins said pregame that Verrett's weekend assignment in part would be determined by whether he needed to be used Tuesday.

What's next: Jacob deGrom (3-1, 2.62 ERA) opposes right-hander Juan Nicasio (4-4, 4.75) in Game 2 of the doubleheader.