Jon Niese, the Mets #3 starter, has certainly out-pitched that title since returning from the disabled on June 5th. The 2005 seventh round pick is pitching to a 4-0 record with a 2.67 ERA in 5 starts since that return. After winning his first three starts since returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined him only for the minimum 15 days, (including a one hitter against the Padres on June 10th) Niese hit a slight speed bump in a game against Detroit on June 22nd (4.2 IP 7 H 6 ER 3 BB 4 K). That night at Cti Field, Niese had held the Tigers hitless through the first three innings before a one-hour rain delay interrupted the left-hander’s rhythm. “The ball felt good coming out of my hand and I felt like I had good command,” Niese said. “Then the weather changed and it seemed like everything stayed flat. None of my pitches did anything. I didn’t have my command, and that’s what hurt me.”
With staff aces Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey recently coming back down to Earth after sizzling starts to the season, Niese was on a mission to prove that his struggles against the Tigers were solely weather-related. And Niese did just that. On a humid afternoon at Citi Field, Niese used a sharp curveball and an effective cutter to hold the potent Twins lineup, stacked with 7 right-handed hitters, to just four hits over six-plus innings of work. There really isn’t anything negative you could say about the youngster’s performance of late. But as an always skeptical Mets fan I can’t help but ask the question, is this too much pressure for a twenty-three year old starter who has never pitched a full major league season?
There has been no talk of limiting Niese’s innings. With 39.2 major league innings under his belt coming into the year, Niese has already more than doubled his career total with the 75 innings he’s logged thus far in 2010. In fact, the most innings Niese has ever pitched in a full year came in 2008 when the hurler threw 178 innings between AA, AAA, and the majors. However the Mets are very thin organizationally in starting pitching, and come the middle of August the Mets could find themselves in uncharted territory with their prized, young left-hander if Mets GM Omar Minaya doesn’t strengthen his pitching staff soon.
And with each passing day, the urgency for Omar to add depth to that staff increases. As we approach the July 31st trade deadline, Omar does have some options. The question is, does he go the sexy route and bring in a name like Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt? Or does he bring in some middle tier starters like Jake Westbrook or Kevin Millwood to eat up innings. R.A. Dickey seems to have solidified his role as a starter pitching to a 6-0 record and 2.33 ERA in his first 7 starts with the Mets. And Hisanori Takahashi whose had his ups and downs as a starter, would be better served coming out of the bullpen as he did so effectively early in the season before being called upon for starting duties. That is, if Omar chooses to only bring in one starter. If he is able to deal for two, it would be essentially like getting three. Both Takahashi and Dickey are capable of being successful out of the bullpen. And more importantly, if the Mets are serious about making a big run in October, the Mets will need Niese to have something left in the tank.
Hawk Drobnis is co-host of Gotham Baseball LIVE, and contributor to gothambaseball.com
Hawk can reached at the TheHawkIsWatching@yahoo.com