Oct 17

2012 Mets Player Review: Jonathan Niese, LHP

JONATHAN NIESE, LHP

PRESEASON EXPECTATIONS: Jonathan Niese was another Mets pitcher who went into spring training coming off an injury. He pulled a right rib cage muscle in Sept. 2011, while pitching against the Phillies and was shut down. Two years earlier, Niese’s season ended with a severely pulled hamstring. While the Mets weren’t worried about his arm, two muscle pulls had them wonder if he was susceptible to such injuries. Foolishly, Niese felt discomfort in his previous start, but continued to pitch against the Phillies. In 2010 and 2011, Niese won nine and 11 games, respectively, and displayed composure and an ability to work out of trouble. Niese doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but throws a plus cutter and fall-off-the-table curveball. When he’s able to command those pitches, it increases the effectiveness of his fastball. Assuming his health, the Mets expected him to continue to develop and hopefully win as many as 15 games as a No. 3 starter.

2012 SEASON REVIEW: Although Niese fell short of 15 victories, he continued to make strides to become one of the Mets’ most reliable pitchers. Satisfied he was healthy, the Mets signed Niese to a $25.5 million contract extension with team options for 2017 and 2018. Largely unproven, the Mets were banking on Niese’s potential and at the time GM Sandy Alderson said he was the type of player the club could build around. The contract enables the Mets to avoid arbitration and Niese’s first shot at free agency, which is paramount in cost control. Niese tied his career high of 30 starts and logged 190.1 innings. Niese, like most Mets’ starters save R.A. Dickey, suffered from a lack of run support and bullpen collapses. Niese responded from a combined 4-5 in July and August to win this final three starts to finish at 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Niese had an impressive 155-49 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and worked into the seventh inning or longer in 17 appearances. He only had two starts in which he did not work at least five innings. Niese did miss a start after he was pulled for a June 3 game with a rapid heartbeat.

LOOKING AT 2013: Although Niese did not have a reoccurrence of the rapid heartbeat in the second half, he will undergo surgery at the Cleveland Clinic to alleviate the problem. It is considered minor surgery, but anything involving the heart can’t be thought of as minor. Figuring he will make a full recovery, the Mets expect him to build on 2013. Considering his age and salary, he would be in high demand on the trade market, but a pitcher of Niese’s potential is exactly what the franchise needs. Niese’s overall numbers were good and assuming he receives run support – the Mets failed to score more than three runs in 17 starts – 15 victories and 200-plus innings should be reachable. Niese would enter next year as the No. 3 starter assuming everything works in the positive with Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey.

TOMORROW: Dillon Gee, RHP

Sep 29

Mets Matters: Braves Prez John Schuerholz Tells It Like It Is

You have to love Braves president John Schuerholz, the architect as general manager of Atlanta’s spectacular playoff run.

He’s always been a straight shooter and last night during the Chipper Jones’ ceremony said something you don’t hear from Major League Baseball executives when he called Hank Aaron, “the true Major League Baseball home run champion.’’

Finally, an executive with the guts to put the steroid mess in its proper light. Baseball cherishes its records and the home run records – career and single season – are the most revered.

We all know Barry Bonds used steroids, and like Mark McGwire, will be shunned by the Hall of Fame voters. He won’t get mine unless there’s a drastic revision in the process.

The Hall of Fame is a baseball museum honoring its history, and history is sometimes messy. If there was a provision where on the player’s plaque there was a notation he used PEDs, I’d be more inclined to vote for him.

Until then: No.

Bravo to Schuerholz for telling it like it is.

Niese to have heart procedure: Jon Niese, who pitched brilliantly last night to earn his career high 13th victory, said he’ll have a heart procedure at the Cleveland Clinic to correct a rapid heartbeat that resurfaced in June.

Niese said after the game he wants to build off this season.

“I’m never satisfied with the number I put up,’’ Niese said. “With what R.A. (Dickey) has been doing this year, having a season like that is something to look forward to.’’

Niese said the next step is to reach 200 innings, 15 victories and increase his starts total (he had 30).

Parnell will close out season: Frank Francisco is finished for the year with elbow tendinitis and Bobby Parnell will be the closer for the remaining five games.

Parnell has the stuff to be a closer, but has spit the bit in every opportunity he’s been given. There’s nothing wrong with his velocity, but there are times when his fastball flattens out and becomes easier to hit.

Duda flashes power: Coming out of spring training there was a lot of optimism surrounding Lucas Duda’s power potential.

He has the strength to reach 30, but will finish with at least half that number. He hit his 15th last night, a three-run blast to beat Tim Hudson.

Even more impressive than the distance was that Duda was behind 1-2 in the count, but worked it full.

“Obviously I can improve in every aspect,’’ Duda told reporters last night. “There’s not really like a number I can put on it. Obviously it wasn’t the season I wanted to have — getting sent down and things like that.’’

Sep 28

Mets Matters: Last Time Facing Chipper Jones

The Mets are in Atlanta tonight to start a three-game series against the Braves and long-time nemesis Chipper Jones.

Jones has taken his farewell tour among National League parks and has been given numerous gifts ranging from a pop-art painting of Shea Stadium from the Mets, a surfboard from the Padres, and maybe the best of all, an autographed Stan Musial jersey from the Cardinals.

The Braves will honor him prior to tonight’s game and he’ll have three more shots at tormenting the Mets.

Jones will go down as one of the top four switch hitters in history, along with Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray (both over 500 homers) and Pete Rose (the career hits leader).

He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Niese starts for Mets: Jonathan Niese will make his final start of the season. The pre-season goal was 15 victories, but Niese stands at 12-9 with a very respectable 3.49 ERA, and an improved 1.18 WHIP (from his career of 1.36).

He has a very good 152-46 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, but needs to cut down on homers allowed (21).

Perhaps most importantly, Niese will end the season injury free with 30 starts.

Gee goes home: Dillon Gee is at his off-season Fort Worth, Texas, home today, having been sent home by the club after the Citi Field 2012 finale.

Gee threw a bullpen session Monday, his first time on the mound since July 13, when he had surgery to repair an artery in his pitching shoulder that caused numbness in his arm.

Gee said he had never thrown off a mound this soon after an extended down period and came away pleased.

“All I wanted to do was see how much I could build up before the end of the season,” Gee said. “And, to be honest with you, normally I’m not on the mound this early. So to be up on the mound this early and feel pretty good is encouraging. That was a goal.’’

It was important for the Mets to see Gee throw before winter, even if it was only 25 pitches so they could get a feel of his physical status.

Gee said he’ll start working out immediately after the season and begin throwing in December, as he does every year. That there are no restrictions on him is very encouraging.

Citi Field, 2012, numbers: The Mets finished 36-45 at home, a number that must at least be reversed if they are to become regarded as a contender. They scored 287 runs, their fewest at home since 1994, when they scored 235 runs. They did homer 67 times, their most at home since opening the park, but were outhomered by five.

Aug 31

On Shutting Down Matt Harvey

Enjoy it while you can. The Mets plan to shut down Matt Harvey after 175 innings max, which is about three more starts.

While he’s been one of the bright spots to a disappointing season, I have no problem with the decision as there’s nothing to be gained by running him into the ground. If he’s as good as projected, he’ll be throwing 200-plus innings soon enough.

Harvey has been impressive through his first seven starts, in particular in limiting the damage when he gets in trouble. The ability to fight through threats, whether it be by improvisation or pure power and guile makes for the foundation of a good career.

This is something we also so yesterday from Jon Niese, who was in constant trouble but held the Phillies to single runs in three straight innings. We’ve seen worse from Niese, so this is another good sign.

Overall, I expected more from Niese than 10-9 at this point. His sub-4 ERA says he hasn’t always gotten the most run support. While there have been rocky nights for him, in the long run there’s still a lot of potential there and the combination of him and Harvey, plus R. A. Dickey and comebacks from Dillon Gee and Johan Santana, gives the Mets the basis for a good rotation next season.

Now, if they can only score some runs and redo the bullpen.

Jul 04

Jon Niese: One Of The Untouchable Mets

Sometimes it is better to hold a pat hand, which is what the Mets have done with Jonathan Niese over the past few years. More than a few times we heard Niese’s name mentioned in a possible trade.

NIESE: Untouchable (AP)

Whom the Mets would have received in return would not have lifted them from their 2007-2011 funk. At least, not as much as Niese is lifting them now. He’s 7-3 after last night’s 11-1 rout of the Phillies.

The players the Mets might have received could have given them a temporary spark, but they were in need of a deep rebuilding with their pitching and that begins with a stud left-hander, and Niese certainly fits that mold.

Niese was dominant last night with all his pitches, working quickly and staying ahead in the count. Give him a few runs and he’s golden. Last night he had more than he needed.

Niese is a major reason why the Mets, if the season ended today, would be in the playoffs. There’s nobody that could have predicted. Nobody.

At one time the Mets were eight games over .500 and poised to go on a roll. Instead, they faltered and threatened to go below .500. However, this has been a resilient team – perhaps its best attribute and they are seven over with two more games against the Phillies and three against the Cubs. Ten over by the break is very possible.

The Mets are doing what they should be doing against the reeling Phillies, and that is to beat up on them. When facing a down team go for the throat. While they are hurting, the Phillies still have that strong rotation and Ryan Howard due back. The season is not over for them. Other teams have made up more ground in less time, so putting as much space between them is essential for the Mets.