NEW YORK — On the night Daniel Murphy returned to New York's lineup, the Mets' faltering offense might have lost another bat.
Michael Cuddyer was lifted after the sixth inning Tuesday with a knee injury, and New York wasted a stellar effort by Jonathon Niese in a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
"I'm definitely concerned, but obviously I don't jump to conclusions 'til after we see that MRI and then we'll deal with whatever it is," said Cuddyer, who signed a $21 million, two-year contract with the Mets last offseason.
Murphy went 1 for 4 with a double in his first game since June 4 because of a quadriceps strain. But even with one of their best hitters back, a Mets lineup that scored 15 runs in 10 games before Sunday, when rookie pitcher Steven Matz had three hits and four RBIs in a 7-2 win over Cincinnati, had just three hits in support of Niese (3-8).
The left-hander gave up four hits and a run in seven innings against a team thought to be interested in possibly trading for him. He is winless in a career-high nine starts.
"It's tough to swallow but you've got to be professional about it," Niese said. "You've got to forget about it and not worry about it. Move on to the next game."
This was the first game in a stretch in which the Mets play seven of their next nine series against opponents who are above .500, including the first-place Cardinals, Nationals and Dodgers — with two sets against Washington and Los Angeles.
New York had just three hits in falling to 0-5 against the Cubs this year, including four defeats by one run. Chicago completed a four-game sweep of the Mets at Wrigley Field in May.
Kyle Hendricks (3-4) pitched three-hit ball for six innings and combined with three relievers to bail out the Cubs, who had scored just six runs during a five-game losing streak.
Matt Szczur had an RBI double off Niese in the sixth, the team's only hit in five chances with runners in scoring position. It was enough to end a four-game winning streak for the Mets, who lost 1-0 for the fourth time in two months.
Chicago was 4 for 37 with runners in scoring position while dropping two to the Dodgers and getting swept by NL Central-rival St. Louis. Hoping to make the slump disappear, manager Joe Maddon pulled out one of his tension-cutting tricks: He hired a magician to entertain the team before the game.
"I was locked in on that," Hendricks said. "It was crazy, some of the stuff he was pulling off."
But the Cubs managed only four hits against the Mets, whose pitchers have yielded just five runs in the last 51 innings (0.88 ERA).
Hendricks was winless in his last three starts and hadn't gotten an out beyond the fifth since going six innings June 2 against Miami. The team that entered Tuesday 27th in the majors in runs was a good tonic for his troubles.
The right-hander walked one and struck out six, not allowing a runner past second base. In two career starts against the Mets, he's allowed one run and six hits over 13 innings.
"I can honestly tell you the offensive guys, the position players, are not happy," New York manager Terry Collins said. "They're working on things. We're just not getting it translated into the game and that's the most important thing."
Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop each pitched a hitless inning before Jason Motte finished the three-hitter for his third save.
MANNY BEING ... HITTING GURU
Cubs hitting consultant Manny Ramirez was with the big league club for the third time this season, Maddon said. "Manny is really good at talking approach," Maddon said. "Everybody wants to teach physical mechanics. I like mental mechanics being taught. ... Manny has that experience, and he really focuses on approach."
Cubs: OF Jorge Soler (sprained left ankle) went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and an RBI on Monday in his first rehab game, for Triple-A Iowa.
Mets: C Travis d'Arnaud (elbow) was in the clubhouse, wearing a big brace on his left arm. He said he was feeling better but did not know when he'll be able to discard the brace. ... RHP Jenrry Mejia (elbow, drug suspension) pitched a scoreless inning for Triple-A Las Vegas on Monday night.
Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (4-6) will surely be happy that he's starting on July 1. He finished June 0-3 with a 5.74 ERA. He faced the Mets once this season, yielding three runs in six innings of a 4-3 win.
Mets: Bartolo Colon (9-6) has never beaten the Cubs, one of two teams the 42-year-old right-hander remains winless against.