Jon Niese’s bullpen tryout was only a very early step in the process
Barring injury or a drastic turn of events, Jon Niese realized weeks ago he had next to no chance of earning a job in the Mets playoff rotation come October.
That’s when, according to Terry Collins, he took the initiative and told his manager he would like to see if he could pitch out of the bullpen in an effort to contribute to the club in the postseason.
So after the Mets, clinched the Mets transitioned Niese to the bullpen and replaced him in the rotation with Logan Verrett, who will start on Wednesday night against the Phillies.
Niese was given his first assignment out of the bullpen on Tuesday night. He entered the game in the sixth inning in relief of Bartolo Colon, who allowed only a three-home home run to Darin Ruf in the first inning.
Niese allowed a leadoff single to Cody Asche, but he was thrown out at second while attempting a double on an outstanding throw from Yoenis Cespedes in the left-center field gap. He then induced a flyout from Darnelll Sweeney and a groundout from Cameron Rupp.
He was assigned the seventh inning as well, although that inning didn’t go quite as smoothly.
He induced a groundout from Brian Bogusevic and struck out Chase d’Arnaud to get two quick outs. But then he allowed singles to Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera to end his night.
Galvis would come around to score when Erik Goeddel allowed an RBI single to Aaron Altherr.
Overall, Niese allowed a run on three hits in 1 2/3 innings.
“It’s going to be a learning process. It’s going to be something I’m going to have to get used to. It was a good step today,” Niese said.
Niese allowed a few hits, but that’s his game. He always seems to allow a lot of baserunners in his outings, and Tuesday was really no exception. He only found real trouble with two outs in the seventh inning, but he was removed from the game, leaving the situation in the hands of Goeddel, who made a bad pitch, grooving a fastball pretty much down the middle of the plate for Altherr.
If Goeddel makes a better pitch and gets a groudball for instance, Niese’s line would’ve looked a lot better.
But Goeddel’s fastball doesn’t discount the fact Niese is a strike thrower, isn’t dominant, allows base runners, and on top of everything else, has made the sum total of two relief appearances in his big league career.
On Tuesday, Niese was given a lot of time to get loose, which is atypical for a reliever in most cases. Collins intends to challenge Niese in his next relief assignment – which will be on Thursday – and see if he can get ready quicker and also be effective.
“There’s going to be situations where he’s not going to have that kind of time,” the manager said. “I think that’s the next challenge, to see if he can possibly get ready.”
Niese said his routine to get ready was shorter on Tuesday, but said he didn’t have much trouble getting warmed up.
“It was a lot shorter, but I was able to get loose pretty easily,” the left-hander said.
It helps when it’s warm out, as it was on Tuesday. How will he react to cooler weather, which he will undoubtedly encounter this weekend and in the playoffs? How will he respond in those conditions, pitching on back-to-back days, potentially coming in with runners on-base and in scoring position?
These are all factors the Mets are considering when evaluating Niese for a bullpen spot.
If Niese fails in this audition, he seems unlikely to make the playoff roster. On a 25-man postseason squad, every roster spot is precious, and the Mets simply cannot afford to spend a spot on someone who can’t provide the value they need. They’re better suited either carrying a different arm, or at least in the first round, potentially going an arm short and carrying an extra position player.
But that’s what this week is for. The Mets are fortunate to only have home field advantage to be playing for over the final five regular season games, as it affords them opportunities to see how the likes of Niese and Colon will fit beginning a week from Friday.