Apr 06

Niese Must Grasp Role As No. 1 Starter

By definition, Jon Niese is correct, he is not a No. 1 pitcher, an ace if you will. However, in relation to his status on the Mets, he is the man.

There is no denying Niese’s importance, but his designation of being the leader of the staff should be emphasized more today against Miami than in the status of an Opening Day starter. After two victories to open the season, the Mets have dropped two in a row, and have not looked good in the process.

NIESE: Announcing his presence with authority.

NIESE: Announcing his presence with authority.

Today, the Mets need Niese to stop the losing. That’s the primary goal of a stopper. That’s what staff leaders do.

“As far as leading the staff, I really don’t want to fulfill that role,’’ Niese said. “Everybody, all the guys in the rotation, have something different to offer.

“So I’m willing to learn from them, and I’m sure they’re willing to learn from me. We all have a job to do. Each one of us has a different way of going about it.’’

I can’t buy for a second Niese doesn’t want that role or responsibility. He’s a competitor; you see that every time he pitches. Saying that gives the perception of him willing to be complacent with what he’s achieved, and his 13 career-high victories in not where he wants to peak.

Let’s give Niese the benefit of doubt and say it’s modesty or a reflection of his demeanor. He’s quiet, he’s modest, there doesn’t appear to be a brash bone in his body. But, he’s not a pushover on the mound who easily caves in to the hitter.

Niese wants that role, and manager Terry Collins indicated as much when he told him he would be the Opening Day starter almost a month ago.

“[Niese] said, `All right!’ That means he wanted it bad,’’ Collins recalled. “He got himself ready for it, for sure. He pitched a great game.’’

Niese held San Diego to two runs on four hits and two walks in 6.2 innings. He also had two hits himself.

“I’m not going to lie,’’ Niese said. “The adrenaline was pumping.’’

Catcher John Buck said Niese was easy to catch as everything fell into place for him.

“He had a good two-seamer going. His cutter in was working well for him,’’ Buck said. “So he was spreading the plate really well. And then that curveball, obviously, is a weapon to have with two strikes.’’

No. 1 starters don’t want to leave games. They want to start what they finish. Niese has gone the distance, but knows there have been too many times when he exits with the game still in the balance. That has to stop this year, says Niese, in acknowledging how he must continue to grow.

“I think last year was kind of a year where I kind of hit that sixth inning and had 95 pitches and they kind of shut me down,’’ said Niese, who pleaded for an extra inning and finished with 101. “I think this year I want to be that guy who goes back out and finishes my starts.’’

That won’t happen if Niese hits 100 in the seventh. He needs to be more efficient with his pitches. Too often he’ll work deep into the count, throwing four or five pitches to a hitter.

One less pitch to a hitter could mean two more innings. And, in their minds, staff leaders can’t throw enough innings.

Apr 04

Gee Hard Luck Loser To Padres As Offense Styfled

SCORE: San Diego 2, Mets 1, at Citi Field.

RECORD: 2-1.

GEE: Hard luck loser.

GEE: Hard luck loser.

SUMMARY: What, you expected this to last forever? When you pitch you always have a chance to win. When you don’t hit, that chance is negated. The Mets wasted a solid outing from Dillon Gee in suffering their first loss of the season today by the Padres. This coming after the Mets outscored the Padres, 19-6 in their first two games. “Dillon pitched well, we just weren’t able to pick him up,’’ said Ike Davis.

ON THE MOUND: Gee deserved more than a loss as he gave up a run on three hits and three walks, with four strikeouts in 6.1 innings. “That’s baseball,’’ he said, giving the stock answer for every pitcher’s hard luck loss. Gee, who is coming back from surgery that repaired an artery in his pitching shoulder, said he was not bothered by the cold. … Scott Rice gave up two hits in two-thirds of an inning, but did get out of a jam in the seventh when the Padres could have broken the game open. … Jeurys Familia threw a run-producing wild pitch in the eighth. That came back to haunt the Mets as John Buck homered to lead off the ninth. … Both of San Diego’s runs were the result of lead off walks.

AT THE PLATE: Five hits won’t get it done. Three of those hits were by Justin Turner, who was making his first start of the season. However, with a chance to get the Mets back into the game, Turner grounded out with the tying run on third to end the seventh. Manager Terry Collins said he considered pinch-hitting with Daniel Murphy, but opted to go with Turner, who was hot and had more at-bats during spring training. … Their lone run came on Buck’s homer. The Mets were 0-for-10 with runners on base, and 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Mets hitters struck out 14 times, including three times by Lucas Duda and David Wright, and twice by Marlon Byrd and Ike Davis. That’s ten strikeouts by their 3-4-5-6 hitters. Make it 11 if you count Murphy striking out as a pinch hitter in Duda’s spot (after a double switch).

METS MUSINGS: Despite having a need for a starting pitcher, the Mets didn’t have an interest in bringing back Chris Young. Instead, he signed with Washington to a minor league contract. The Mets also lost out on Josh Stinson, who signed with Baltimore. … Shaun Marcum was given a MRI that revealed neck inflammation. He was given an injection and will return to Port St. Lucie tomorrow, where he will be shut down for 48 hours.

ON DECK: The Miami Marlins are in tomorrow night for the start of a three-game series.

PROBABLES vs. MIAMI

Friday: RHP Alex Sanabia vs. RHP Jeremy Hefner, 7:10 p.m., SNY/WFAN

Saturday: RHP Ricky Nolasco vs. LHP Jon Niese, 1:10 p.m., SNY/WFAN

Sunday: RHP Jose Fernandez vs. TBA, 1:10 p.m., SNY/WFAN

Apr 03

Matt Harvey Dominates Padres; Lucas Duda And Ike Davis Go Deep

Matt Harvey was everything the Mets hoped for as he dominated the San Diego Padres, 8-4, in frigid Citi Field tonight. Harvey gave up one hit with ten strikeouts in seven scoreless innings.

All San Diego’s runs came against the bullpen, which is expected to be a Mets’ Achilles Heel this season, but not even it could ruin this night.

HARVEY: Overpowering

HARVEY: Overpowering (AP)

Especially impressive was Harvey did it pitching with temperatures in the low 30s after the wind-chill. Harvey was in complete control, but at 94 pitches after seven, manager Terry Collins thought it was time to pull the plug.

“Believe me, later in the season in a close game he’s not going to want to come out. There will be huge argument in taking him out,’’ Collins said. “He was getting stiff. He was cold. Under the circumstances he pitched a very impressive game. In weather like that, the ball feels like a cue ball.’’

Harvey said he doesn’t want to be just a major league pitcher, but a great pitcher, and to do that he’s not afraid of putting in the work as in running the steps in the Citi Field stands this winter. It’s easy to say you want to be good, but the key is to make the effort.

The victory was the first of Harvey’s career at Citi Field, and he became the fourth Mets pitcher to register at least 80 strikeouts in his first 11 starts with the team, joining Pedro Martinez, Dwight Gooden and Nolan Ryan.

“Today it was the fastball,’’ Harvey said of what was working. “I threw some good sliders when I needed and I threw my change-up in timely counts. … I said all spring training I wanted to pound the zone and I wasn’t about to let the cold effect me.’’

Harvey wore short sleeves and refused a jacket when he was on the bases: “In my mind, a jacket doesn’t belong on a baseball field.’’

That’s the mentality of an offensive lineman, and the Mets haven’t had that in a long time.

POWER PLUS: One of the pre-season concerns was if the Mets would hit with power. Collin Cowgill hit a grand slam in the opener, and Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and John Buck each hit two-run homers last night off left-hander Clayton Richard. That’s ten RBI on four homers.

“Duda and Ike hitting them off a lefty is huge,’’ Collins said. “If those two guys are hitting, it’s a tough line-up to get through.’’

The Mets have outscored the Padres, 19-6, in winning their first two games.

MARCUM UPDATE: Shaun Green returned to New York from Port St. Lucie to have his neck and shoulder re-examined. He’s already on the disabled list, and Collins said Aaron Laffey would start in his place Sunday against Miami.

“He has some real discomfort running from his shoulder up through his neck,’’ Collins said. “What that is, where it starts, what’s causing it, I think we won’t know until he sees the doctor tomorrow.’’

The Mets signed Laffey as a free agent in December. At 27, he’s also pitched with Cleveland, Seattle, Toronto and the Yankees. He went 4-6 with a 4.56 ERA in 22 games, including 16 starts with the Blue Jays last year.

“Hopefully he comes in Sunday and pitches very well,’’ Collins said. “If he does, he most likely will get another start. But we’re going to just take one start at a time right now.’’

Apr 01

Niese Sparkles; Offense Rocks In Mets’ Opening Day Rout

How appropriate.

It was overcast for much of the day, but shortly after this afternoon’s 11-2 rout of the San Diego Padres, it started to rain on Citi Field. If there could be universal laws in baseball, is it isn’t supposed to rain on Opening Day and the home team has to win.

NIESE: Scintillating start. (AP)

NIESE: Scintillating start. (AP)

Let the Padres win Wednesday night and when they return to San Diego, but today belonged to the Mets, played as complete a game as possible while their crosstown rivals, the Yankees, lost to Boston.

With the victory the Mets improved their Opening Day record to a MLB best 34-18 (.654). It’s astounding considering their overall history.

THE PITCHING: Jon Niese was superb, going 6.2 innings and giving up two runs on four hits. He also collected two hits. Niese’s wife said she wears a special pair of blue panties when he pitches. Wash them and have them ready for the weekend. Niese said he didn’t feel any added pressure of starting on Opening Day, but admitted, “the adrenalin was pumping.’’ … Niese is now the de facto ace with Johan Santana gone. “He has stepped into a role where he leads the rotation,’’ manager Terry Collins said.

WRIGHT STREAK CONTINUES: Wright said he didn’t feel anything different when he was introduced as captain, but reiterated, “I’m very proud to represent this team.’’ With a third-inning single, Wright has hit in every Opening Day since his first in 2005. Overall, he is 13-for-36 (.361) in home openers. Wright also made several sparkling plays in the field and stole two bases.

OFFENSE TAKES OFF: Today marked the fifth time the Mets scored double-digit runs on Opening Day. … The Mets scored nine runs after two outs and went 7-for-14 with runners in scoring position. … Collin Cowgill hit is first career grand slam in the seventh inning. Only Todd Hundley previously hit a slam on Opening Day. … Cowgill, Marlon Byrd and John Buck combined to go 6-for-14 with five runs scored and seven RBI. “I’m just grateful for this opportunity and want to make the most of it,’’ Cowgill said. Byrd declined to speak to reporters after the game. … Ruben Tejada doubled home the Mets’ first run. “He told me he would be ready,’’ Collins said of Tejada’s dismal spring training.

BEST STORY: The best story of the day was reliever Scott Rice’s major league debut after 14 years in the minor leagues. He pitched one scoreless innings and struck out two. Buck saved the ball from the first strikeout by throwing it into the Mets’ dugout. Rice presented the ball to his father after the game. “Maybe this will hit me later,’’ Rice said.

METS MUSINGS: The Mets held their annual Welcome Home dinner at a Manhattan hotel. … Shaun Marcum could be activated from the disabled list to start this weekend against Miami. … Matt Harvey (3-5, 2.73) will start against left-hander Clayton Richard (14-14, 3.99) Wednesday night. The Mets play Thursday afternoon and will host Miami this weekend.

Mar 08

Dillon Gee Takes Mound Today Against Detroit

They all can’t throw like Matt Harvey this time of spring.

Overpowering and arguably flawless in yesterday’s start against Miami, Harvey had one of those seamless starts pitchers rarely have in their third spring training game.

GEE: Continues comeback today.

GEE: Continues comeback today.

Dillon Gee, today’s starter against Detroit in Lakeland, has no such illusions.

“My mechanics are off,’’ Gee said. “It will be just my third start of the spring, so they are bound to be off. Spring training is for trying to figure out that kind of stuff.’’

Gee insists it is not an injury-related mechanical problem, but a matter of working off the rust that is a natural occurrence this time of year. It’s part of the process of getting ready to make 30 stars a summer.

“It’s all about location,’’ said Gee as he laced up his shoes while sitting at his locker yesterday afternoon. “Location is all about repetition early in spring training. I’m trying to refine everything.’’

As it is with Harvey and Jon Niese, Gee said mastering his change-up is the pitch he most needs to refine that will tell him if he’s ready to start the season. A change-up is thrown with the same motion as the fastball, and even though the pitcher uses the same grip, he releases the pitch with a different pressure on the ball.

“The change-up is such a feel pitch,’’ Gee said. “It takes time to feel comfortable with it. … Having good results would be good, but the important thing is to feel comfortable with all my pitches and improve my location.’’

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