Fernando Nieve froze the Cardinals at the plate, throwing six scoreless innings and allowing just three hits in earning his third win in as many starts this season in the Mets' 11-0 victory Wednesday.
"He's got tremendous stuff," third baseman David Wright said. "It catches your attention -- the stuff that he has, the competitiveness he brings to the mound. He's got a game plan and he executes it."
Nieve has been the only sure thing on a Mets roster racked by uncertainty over the past two weeks. Filling in for the injured John Maine, Nieve has pitched the Mets to victories over the Yankees, Rays and Cardinals -- teams that rank second, first and 13th in the Majors in runs, respectively.
Nieve struck out five Cardinals on Wednesday night, and even without his best command, rarely found himself in trouble. The two times he did, he worked around Albert Pujols and retired Rick Ankiel to end St. Louis threats.
In the third, after a walk to Pujols loaded the bases, Nieve struck out Ankiel on a 2-2 fastball. In the fifth, following another walk to Pujols, Nieve induced a harmless fly to center from Ankiel.
Nieve has now given up just 10 hits in his 20 2/3 innings as a starter.
"I think he has to keep pitching for us," manager Jerry Manuel said. "Shutout innings, giving us an opportunity to win. It looks like his ball really gets on guys."
As good as Nieve has been so far, Manuel is hesitant to pencil him into the rotation long-term. The fact remains Nieve entered this season with a 3-4 lifetime record and just 11 starts under his belt.
"You're kind of waiting for the other stuff," Manuel said. "If it never happens, that's great, that's awesome. I hope he continues to pitch that well. He'll continue to get the opportunity."
Nieve has earned the chance to continue starting even with the return of starters Maine and Oliver Perez on the horizon. Both were at Citi Field on Wednesday to throw bullpen sessions, and Maine could be ready to return by the end of next week.
That's not on Nieve's mind, though. The pitcher who cited thinking too much as a primary cause of his downfall with the Houston Astros is doing his best to stay in the moment.
"Every time now I'm just trying to hit my spot, use all my pitches," Nieve said. "I have confidence in my pitches and my arm. I'm trying to do my job all the time."
As long as Nieve does that and the Mets continue to win, Manuel won't hesitate to keep running him out there.
"There is a little more margin for error now than there was when he came here," the manager said. "We've played well behind him, we've scored runs. He might be the guy we need on the mound."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.