Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jonathon Brings Hitters To Their Niese

When the season began, Jonathon Niese was supposed to be nothing more than a fifth starter on a team with established major leaguers in the rotation. Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, John Maine and Oliver Perez would lead the staff and Niese would follow.

Of course, Maine and Perez sucked and got hurt (not necessarily in that order), Pelfrey went from godsend to godforsaken and Santana slogged his way through June (four consecutive starts giving up four runs or more).

So of the original starting five, who has been the most consistent starter? None other than Jonathon Niese, the man born on the same day a fellow Mets lefty threw his glove up into the Flushing night after winning the World Series.

Entering his first full season in the major leagues, Niese was trying to help a team that had a questionable rotation. After a brutal leg injury ended his season last year, Niese was also looking to prove that he was fully recovered.

He started the season pitching like the fifth starter that he was, going 1-2 with a 4.79 through May 16. He had shown flashes of brilliance, such as his final three starts in April, when he gave up two earned runs in 18 innings, but for the most part, he was so-so over the first month and a half of the season.

Then Niese suffered a mild strain of his right hamstring and was placed on the 15-day DL. He was replaced in the rotation by R.A. Dickey while he recovered. Upon being recalled to the major leagues to start on June 5, Niese returned healthy and a changed pitcher.

Since his return, Niese (along with his injury replacement, Dickey) has been the most consistent starter in the Mets rotation. In 14 starts since his June 5 return, Niese has gone 6-3 with a 2.75 ERA. He has struck out 72 batters while walking only 24. Opposing hitters have been brought to their knees by the former fifth starter, batting at a .231 clip, while compiling a weak .290 on-base percentage.

Niese has given up one run or less in nine of those 14 starts, including his masterpiece on June 10, when he allowed only one runner to reach base against him in a complete game victory against the San Diego Padres.

Unfortunately, his success has not translated into Mets victories. He has given up one run or less in each of his last three starts, pitching to the tune of a 1.29 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP, but has not earned a victory in any of those games due to the inept Mets offense. In fact, Niese has given up one run or less 12 times this season (in only 22 starts) and has been credited with a victory in only six of them.

Despite his unfortunately inability to earn victories, Niese is still having one of the best rookie seasons for a Mets pitcher in recent years. In fact, in the 21st century, no Mets rookie pitcher has won more than nine games in his inaugural campaign. (The great Jae Seo went 9-12 as a rookie for the Mets in 2003.) With three more victories, Jonathon Niese will have the greatest season for a Mets rookie pitcher this century. That's as much a testament to Niese's fine 2010 as it is to the Mets' inability to develop a quality starter over the past 10 years.

Jonathon Niese's next start will be on Saturday in Pittsburgh, a game that will be attended by the Studious Metsimus staff. If things go according to form, Niese will pitch another great game but will be left without a victory. That would be a shame, since Niese has been one of the most consistent pitchers for the Mets this season and has definitely been the best rookie pitcher for the Mets in the early part of this century.

Jae Seo, watch out. Jonathon Niese is about to erase your name from the record books. Of course, if Niese continues to pitch as well as he has since he returned from the DL on June 5, Jae Seo might not be the only name Niese erases from the Mets record books.

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