Jon Niese showed necessary signs of progress in different ways on Sunday
Over the last month, Jon Niese had not only been severely underperforming, but with the emergence of both Steven Matz and Bartolo Colon, was quite possibly losing his grip on a roster spot for the playoffs.
He had a 9.12 ERA in his previous five starts, allowing 51 base runners in only 25 2/3 innings while allowing six home runs and a 1.046 opposing OPS. But most significantly was the lack of life on his pitches, as he was struggling to get that good downward movement which made him so successful from the beginning of June into the early part of August.
But on Sunday in Atlanta, Niese appeared as though he was emerging from his late-season slump, as he allowed only two earned runs on eight hits with three strikeouts in six innings.
He took a no-decision and remains winless since his rough start against the Rockies on August 22, but it was the first start in which Niese has not allowed more than two runs since August 10.
“It was a big step forward,” Niese said. “With everything that happened today it was a crazy game, but with a great outcome.”
It wasn’t a perfect outing for Niese by any means. He still struggled with that arm slot which was leaving his pitches flat and moving across the strike zone on a horizontal plane. At times, he struggled to get his cutter in on the right-handed hitters as well.
His best inning was the fifth inning, not so much for the results – although he pitched a 1-2-3 frame – but for his arm slot and the life on his pitches. He was coming more over the top and had as much velocity and movement on his fastball as he’s had at any point during this funk.
Manager Terry Collins was pleased Niese was able to bounce back on Sunday.
“I thought he pitched better than the results were today,” manager Terry Collins said. “He certainly had much better command and made pitches when he had to, and hopefully that is what you’re going to see from him the rest of the way.”
Indeed, as Niese was betrayed by his infield defense on several occasions, forcing him to throw extra pitches and pitches under duress in the process.
But the difference for Niese on Sunday was he didn’t waver despite the adversity. He managed to limit the damage against him and help bail his defense out of their struggles.
That in and of itself is a step forward for Niese.
As for his future, it would behoove Niese to pitch well and at least be in the conversation for a role in the playoffs. If he’s going to have any role whatsoever, it would likely be as a starting pitcher, as Collins has said on several occasions he doesn’t see Niese as a candidate to pitch in relief.
But by no means does that mean Niese has a role in a postseason rotation. With Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, Niese and Bartolo Colon could be on the outside looking in for a spot in the playoff rotation, with Colon perhaps having an edge on a roster spot over Niese since he has a history of pitching in relief.
But for now, Niese’s job is to get the Mets and their young rotation to the postseason. And to do that, he will have to produce more starts like he did on Sunday in his final three starts of the season.
If there’s one thing Niese has shown this year is he has the ability to emerge from these slumps and pitch not only reliably, but at a high level. If he can emerge from this slump successfully, he will have done that job the Mets need him to for the rest of the season.