Thank You Jonathon Niese

An article by posted on August 10, 2010

With the Mets spiraling out of control and the season’s fate on the line, rookie Jonathon Niese did all he could to keep the team’s playoffs hopes alive.  Niese went out and manged to stymie Philly hitters to the tune of 7 IP, 1 ER, and 7 strike outs.  To fully grasp Niese’s dominance one need look no farther than his performance in the 4th inning, where the lefty threw 10 of his 11 pitches for strikes and K’d the side on Wainwright-esque knee-buckling curves.  If it wasn’t for an 8th inning bullpen implosion, the 6’4″ lefty would have won his 8th game of the season, tying him for 2nd among MLB rookies in that category.  Instead, Niese remains tied for 3rd:

With a series loss to the Phillies and all hopes of a successful season coming to an end, their is still a silver lining.  How is that possible?  Simply put, Jonathon Niese is showing that he will be part of the solution moving forward.  Niese was selected by the NY Mets in round 7 (#209) of the 2005 MLB draft out of Defiance High School in Ohio and at the time MLB.com offered the following analysis on the Mets selection:

Good kid. Has a good idea of what pitching is about. Fast ball sits in upper-80s w/ the usual late movement left-handed pitchers have. Curve ball is his out pitch w/ good downward action and late bite. Circle change is deceptive.”

It was the same draft in which the Mets selected Mike Pelfrey with the 9th overall pick and while Pelfrey has received the most hype of the two, it is Niese who has taken the bigger steps forward in his development this season.  Big Pelf has seemingly turned the corner so many times, but his most recent turn has put the former first rounder at a dead end.  Niese, on the other hand, has put together an impressive rookie campaign:

In very un-Pelfrey like fashion, Jonathon has demonstrated the ability and mental fortitude to bounce back following less than impressive starts, rarely stringing together consecutive poor outings.  In fact, following games in which he has allowed 5 or more earned runs (3 times) he has managed a 1.31 ‘bounce back’ ERA (20 2/3 IP, 3 ER).  There’s nothing overwhelming about Niese’s ‘stuff’, but it’s becoming more and more clear that the kid just knows how to pitch.  This fact has likely never eluded scouts as he was ranked the 6th best prospect in the Mets organization heading into 2010 according to Baseball America:

 

Its been a long road for Niese and there have been a fair share of obstacles along the way.  The pitcher underwent surgery the day after tearing his hamstring from the bone while covering first base on August 5th of last season.  With questions surrounding his future he put in 6 grueling months of rehab and entered spring training fighting for a rotation spot with Fernando Nieve, Pat Misch, and Nelson Figueroa. Upon returning the rookie spoke about his injury:

“I was really confident with the way I was pitching, and to have something like that happen, it was just a freak accident. But at the same time you’ve just got to put that in the past and lick your wounds and move forward.”

He has since gone from a guy fighting for a rotation spot in the spring to a candidate for Rookie Of The Year and, at times, displayed the promise of a front of the rotation starter.  In fact,  he is currently second among MLB rookies with at least 10 starts in ERA behind only the Cardinals, Jaime Garcia:

In the end Jonathon will need to remain healthy and utterly dominant to make a run at besting Garcia or others (i.e. Buster Posey, Stephen Strasburg, and Tyler Colvin) for ROY honors and as unlikely as the feat may be, it’s just tough to count the gritty lefty out of anything.  On May 19th he made a brief stint to the DL due to a mild hamstring strain and just 2 games after his return he threw the 34th 1-hitter in Mets history.  Talk about being resilient.  Jay recapped that start in our post-game recap (Z-Cap) saying:

Niese needed 108 pitches to finish his first career complete game, striking out 6 and earning his 3rd win of the year (3-2, 3.61 ERA).  Perhaps the most impressive thing about this kid, who has is now 2-0 since coming off the DL less than a week ago (16 IP, 1 ER, 12K in those efforts), is the fact that he is comfortable attacking hitters.  Despite not being armed with an overpowering fastball, Niese has maintained decent strikeout numbers throughout his young career and while nobody’s going to confuse his 7.1 K/9 ratio in 2010 with Tim Lincecum (10.2 K/9), he won’t soon be mistaken for  Nick Blackburn (2.3 K/9) either.  While it’s only been two starts since his return from the DL, if his last 2 starts are ANY indication of what can be expected down the road, even with inconsistencies along the way, the Mets will be looking at the lefty as their #3 starter post all-star break rather than their end of the rotation anchor.”

It certainly seems as though Niese has settled in as a the team’s #3 starter, but while Jay had hoped it would be behind the likes of Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey, it is Santana and R.A. Dickey who have positioned themselves as the only starters outperforming the rookie left-hander.  Over his last 12 starts Jonathon has allowed 26 ER over 77 2/3 IP (3.01 ERA) and since June 1st his earned run average actually ranks second on the staff:

There are plenty of things to loathe about the Mets season and the team seemingly adds new things to the list almost every night.  Nothing about Jonathon Niese, however, fits that billing.  In a year where much has gone wrong and it’s easy to get lost in the lunacy of all things Jerry Manuel and the front office, one bright spot on the field has been a 23-year old starter who has displayed a sense of resiliency and maturity beyond his years.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is ‘thanks’ Jon Niese.  I’ll avoid saying I’m ‘proud of you’, since I know what kind of ruckus that can cause.  Still, your starts and overall development give us something to look forward to this season and given the team’s recent performance, that’s quite an accomplishment.

For more of my thoughts on the Mets, head to MetsZilla.com

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