By: Stache Staff

PreGame: Baltimore Orioles (39-28) at New York Mets (36-32)

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Johan pitches at Citi Field tonight for the first time since his no-hitter.

Staff ace Johan Santana will look to follow the brilliance of R.A. Dickey tonight with a gem of his own as the Mets host the Baltimore Orioles in the second game of a three-game set at Citi Field. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. and the game can be seen on SNY or heard, as always on WFAN 660 AM. Join the conversation on Twitter by following @dailystache or yours truly, @DevOnSports.

Santana will take the hill tonight at Citi Field for the first time since his no-hitter on June 1. The results in two road starts since haven’t been great for Johan, who took a loss at Yankee Stadium on 6/8 and was bailed out by his offense to get the win in Tampa on 6/14 despite allowing four earned in five innings.

Johan will be opposed on Tuesday night by Baltimore righhander Tommy Hunter, who has allowed at least five earned runs in three of his last four starts. The Mets lineup doesn’t get many makeovers after a successful opener against another righty, Jake Arrieta.

One notable change is the return to the lineup of Daniel Murphy after getting Monday off. Murph replaces Jordany Valdespin at second base, while Valdespin gets his second career start in left field. Valdy went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored in Murphy’s stead last night. He seems to be figuring things out at the plate and clearly Terry Collins wants to keep his bat in the lineup.

Mets Lineup:

Nieuwenhuis – Valdespin – Wright – Duda – Davis – Murphy – Quintanilla – Thole – Santana

Small Sample Stache: Murphy is mired in a big slump, with just eight hits in his last 54 at-bats. He’s also stopped walking or getting extra base hits giving him a disgusting .197/.197/.273 triple slash for the month of June to date.

Orioles Lineup:

Roberts – Hardy – Jones – Wieters – Reynolds – Pearce – Tolleson – Andino – Hunter

Small Sample Stache: The top two hitters in tonight’s Orioles lineup, JJ Hardy and Brian Roberts are a combined 7-for-32 (.218) lifetime against Santana.

Pitching Matchup:
NYM: Johan Santana (4-3, 3.23 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 79 K) – Johan heads to the mound tonight looking to bounce back following two straight porous starts on the road thanks mostly to poor control. In each outing, Santana pitched just five innings and allowed at least four earned runs. Since his no-hitter he’s allowed 10 earned runs on 13 hits and five walks while striking out just 11 in 10 innings.

Johan 2.0 deals in precision. When he’s hitting his spots, nights like back-to-back shutouts vs. the Padres and Cardinals are possible. But when he doesn’t have command — as has been the case in his last two starts — Johan is simply a mediocre pitcher with a below average fastball. However, a good start tonight would go a long way toward calming everyone’s nerves about how the 134-pitch no-hitter impacted his surgically shoulder.

BAL: Tommy Hunter (3-3, 5.58 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 38 K) – Many will remember Hunter as the kid who burst onto the scene with the Rangers in 2010 and helped pushed them to a playoff berth with a 13-4 record and 3.73 ERA in 22 starts. But after getting off to a rough start for Texas in 2011, Hunter was demoted, eventually finding himself in AA before the Rangers sent he and Chris Davis to the Orioles at the trade deadline for Koji Uehara.

Hunter made 11 starts for the Orioles down the stretch last year and earned a spot in the rotation for 2012, but hasn’t exactly lived up to it. While his season has featured some flashes of what he brought to the Rangers in 2010 (four outings of seven innings with three or fewer earned runs in 2012), for the most part he’s been roughed up, allowing at least five earned runs in five starts. Hunter walks very few —14 in 71 innings this season — but pitches to contact and has given up at least seven hits in eight of his 12 outings this season.

Stache Keys to the Game:

  1. Will the real Johan Santana please stand up? – Having Johan back at the top of the rotation and healthy so far this season has been a blessing for the Mets, but I’d like to see him find his control for good here soon. Pitching tonight against an Orioles lineup that has just been baffled by R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball could be a blessing or a curse.
  2. I Like Ike – After two long months when many of us were certain Ike Davis was headed for a stint in Buffalo to get his act together, it appears as though Ike has staved off that trip. Ike is currently riding a nine-game hitting streak, during which he’s hitting .462/.576/.769.
  3. Keep Spinning – With a slew or roster moves on the horizon, many of the team’s fringe players are looking to secure a permanent place on the roster, rather than be sent back to Buffalo. Jordany Valdespin seems to have sensed this and has turned it around at the plate. Let’s see if he can handle the outfield tonight.

This Date in Mets History:

On this date in 1989, Mets ace Dwight Gooden won his 100th career game, defeating the Expos 5-3. Gooden allowed just three runs on five hits over seven innings and struck out nine. Howard Johnson did most of the damage for the Mets offense, blasting a two-run homer in each of the first two innings.

Eighteen years later, on this date in 2007, current Mets ace and tonight’s starter Johan Santana took the hill at Shea Stadium as a member of the Twins and pitched a four-hit shutout. Amazingly, Santana, who would go on to strike out 235 batters that year, whiffed just one Met in the dominant performance, Paul LoDuca. The strikeout came in the ninth inning.

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