Jonathan Niese will be pitching tonight to push the Mets to 11 games over .500, which would tie their season high and pull them within a game of Atlanta with the Braves coming in this weekend for three games.
Once four games under .500 and floundering early this season, the Mets are relevant again and could be in first place by the All-Star break.
Niese is more than partly attributable to that relevancy, going 5-0 with a 2.43 ERA in six starts since his June 5 return from the disabled list. The Mets are 10-2 in his last 12 starts, including beating Washington last Friday when he struck out a season-high eight and didn’t issue a walk.
What makes him successful?
“I think if I’m able to throw all my pitches for strikes,’’ Niese said. “I think I have a good variety that keeps them off-balance.’’
Off-balance is what tonight’s Reds starter, Bronson Arroyo, has kept the Mets, going 6-2 in ten career starts against them.
Pitching plus power have always been baseball’s greatest winning equation and the Mets finally got it last night with a solid start from Mike Pelfrey and four homers.
The Mets have questions with their rotation after Johan Santana, and the Mets have gotten three solid starts in their first four games.
Pelfrey had his rough spots, but with the exception of one inning he overcame them. Last night, working under cold and windy conditions, Pelfrey showed marked improvement. He continually threw first-pitch strikes.
Pelfrey gave up two runs in six innings, an effort he can build on. The bullpen pitched well for the second straight game. It looks as if Fernando Nieve appears to have gotten the first crack at being the eighth-inning set-up man.
Pelfrey was aided by his defense, especially Alex Cora, who made two scintillating plays, one of which saved a run. The offense was four homers – two each by Jeff Francoeur and Rod Barajas – and amazingly enough, a couple of hits with runners in scoring position.
The good news was obvious, the X-Ray on Mike Pelfrey’s right knee was negative and pitcher Hisanori Takahashi struck out six in three innings.
Based on today’s appearance, Jerry Manuel said they’d have to find a spot for him among the 12 pitchers he’d take north. But, that’s based on today.
Today’s real story line was really about Oliver Perez. Manuel has been raving about how he’s been throwing this spring. There were two positive signs in today’s ugly performance, beginning with no pain in his elbow. He gave up five runs on seven hits and a walk in three innings. But, he was around the plate, throwing 33 of 49 pitches for strikes. That’s a positive.
I’ve been critical of Perez, and he does drive you crazy, but I wrote earlier in spring that I would look at the good from him as a bonus.
I suppose another way of saying that is I don’t expect much. That way I can’t be disappointed.