Jon Niese is going to be ok.
Following perhaps the worst start of his young career last Friday in Toronto, Niese twirled a gem on Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh, pitching the Mets to a 3-1 win and a series victory over the Pirates.
Niese hurled 7 and 2/3 innings, allowing just one run on five hits. He walked two and struck out five. At one point, he retired nine in a row in the middle innings as he scattered baserunners throughout eight frames. Interestingly, Niese didn’t use his curveball much, tossing it only a handful of times. Instead he mixed in a changeup with his fastball and cutter, locating all three pitches effectively.
The Mets offense backed Niese from the get-go, getting to Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton for a run in the first. With one out in the opening inning, Kirk Nieuwenhuis singled to left. He moved to second on a passed ball, advanced to third on a David Wright flyout and scored on a single by Lucas Duda to make it 1-0.
New York added to their lead in the fifth, capitalizing on a leadoff hit by Johnson. Niese bunted Johnson to second and a Baxter single put runners at the corners with one out. Nieuwenhuis brought in Johnson with a sacrifice fly to left and David Wright followed by mashing an opposite field double off the right field wall to score Baxter and put the Mets in front 3-0.
With the lead in hand, Niese went to work, locating his pitches and mowing through the Pirates in short order. He allowed his lone run in the sixth when Andrew McCutchen singled with one out to drive in Josh Harrison, who led off the inning with a double. But Niese got the next batter, Neil Walker, to pound a first-pitch fastball into the ground for a 6-4-3 double play to end the sixth. He followed with a six-pitch seventh inning and went to the eighth sitting at just 84 pitches.
The lefty hit a wall in the penultimate inning, derailing what was primed to be a complete game effort. Clint Barmes led off the inning with a single and though Niese retired the next two batters, he walked Gorkys Hernandez to put the tying runs on base. With McCutchen coming to the plate as the potential go-ahead run and Niese at 102 pitches, manager Terry Collins pulled the plug on his lefthander’s outing and brought in Bobby Parnell.
The inning got shakier with Parnell on the mound as Ike Davis missed a pick off throw from Johnson allowing the runners to move up to second and third. But Parnell didn’t skip a beat and struck out McCutchen with a 98 MPH fastball on the outside corner to get out of the inning. Frank Francisco followed with another 1-2-3 ninth to pick up his 12th save.
Turning Point: With the tying runs in scoring position Bobby Parnell struck out Andrew McCutchen to preserve a two-run lead going to the ninth inning. The successful effort by Parnell — striking out one of the league’s best hitters — earned him his 10th hold.
Game Ball: Jon Niese needed to be great today and he was just that. His use of the cutter, which he threw 40 times, was brilliant and though I’d like to see him mix in that nasty curve a little more, he proved today that he can be good without it. Two straight fantastic starts from Mets pitchers is a great sign. The clunkers are going to happen, but this is the type of effort they need often going forward if they’re going to compete all season.
Next Game: The Mets head back to New York following today’s game and open up a four-game set at Citi Field against the San Diego Padres tomorrow night. Jeremy Hefner (0-1, 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 5K) makes his first major league start for the Mets. He’ll be opposed by journeyman lefty Eric Stults (0-0, 2.70 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6K). First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. and the game can be seen on SNY or heard, as always, on WFAN 660 AM.