Winning is the cure-all, and Jon Niese provided that elixir on Monday
Winning is the cure-all.
The Mets know that. The fans know that. When the team wins, all that was bad is suddenly purged.
Temporarily at least, in this case anyway.
And that’s what the Mets did on Monday against the now lowly Braves on a cool and somewhat serene night at Citi Field, which was surprising given the angst and drama from the night before surrounding the new order called Matt Harvey and the New York Mets.
The Mets jumped on Shelby Miller settled for a run in the first after the Mets loaded the bases with nobody out, and then Michael Conforto – who 30 minutes earlier was awarded the organization’s player of the year award among minor leaguers – belted an opposite field solo home run to make it 2-0 Mets.
That’s all Jon Niese would need on Monday, who mostly cruised for six innings, needing just 88 pitches to shutout the Braves.
“This was a game we needed to have, and Jon gave it to us,” manager Terry Collins said after the win.
For Niese, this start might not make a difference in his standing for a spot in the postseason rotation, or on the roster at all for that matter.
But Collins needs Niese to provide necessary innings to not only deliver wins for the club now, but to soak up necessary innings to give the bullpen a badly needed break after it has become overly taxed thanks to recent inconsistency among the starters.
“I told him, ‘right now I need two of the best starts he’s ever made,’ and he gave us one tonight.” the manager said.
It might not have been the best start of Niese’s career, but on this day in that moment, after a drama filled night just 24 hours earlier distracted from the greater good of the team, his start was freshing and extremely encouraging.
Right out of the gate, Niese was clearly executing an adjustment. He was coming consistently from over the top, which was allowing him to get on top of his curveball and cutter to drive them down and on the corners. He was able to do the same with his two-seamer, but his curveball was the main attraction on Monday. That helped him induce 13 groundball outs, induce a key double play off the bat of Nick Swisher in the fourth inning, and get otherwiese quick outs on weak contact to keep his pitch count down.
“When he’s on,they hit the ball on the ground, which they did tonight,” Collins said.
Both Collins and Niese credited the command of the curveball to his successful evening.
“Ive been working on [the curve] constantly since Ive struggled with it,” Niese explained. “I just have confidence in it now. I’m able to throw it for strikes down in the zone.”
Niese needed only 88 pitches to get through six innings, but recognizing Niese has been susceptible to big innings during his month-long slump, Collins decided to go to the aces in his bullpen for the final third of the game.
Niese wasn’t happy about that decision, of course.
“Terry’s gotta do what he’s gotta do,” the left-hander explained.
It seems pretty obvious Niese is tasked with simply helping the the club get through this final stage of the season, with no certainty beyond his final start which will come either against the Phillies or the Nationals over the next 12 days.
From a performance perspective, it’s understandable, as he’s had two prolonged slumps in which he’s posted ERA’s closer to 10.00 than he has to 5.00. The margin for error in October does not afford the Mets an opportunity to be patient with Niese while he works out of a slump.
But another perspective is that Niese is the longest tenured Met in the club’s starting rotation, and one of the longest tenured Mets on the roster. He has been a mainstay in the rotation since Citi Field opened, often struggling but at other times living up to the contract the Mets signed with him as a show of faith in his ability to bridge the gap and get the organization to this time, which is hopefully inches away from clinching their first division title in nine years.
Of course, this is a meritocracy, and if he doesn’t warrant a spot in the rotation – which seems likely barring injury or additional drama – it’s hard to see him fitting into a bullpen role even with the lack of a viable solution on the left side.
But Niese doesn’t concern himself with such a decision, which is lightyears above his head regardless of how well he pitches.
“I don’t really think about that kind of stuff,” he said. “Whenever they ask me to go out there and start, I go out there and do my best and give my best effort. Whatever decisions they make, that’s up to them.”
His concern – as is the team’s concern – is to deliver regular season wins now. He did that on Monday, which served as a badly needed elixir to what is undeniably an unnecessary distraction which has infiltrated a team and a clubhouse at the most inopportune time.
Winning cured the illness. For a night anyway. And Niese deserves a lot of credit in his effort to change the discussion at Citi Field, even if his effort went for naught.