Jon Niese K’s the Astros, Is Ready For The Season

Jonathan Niese, the Mets Opening Day starter, took the mound on Tuesday against the Houston Astros in a 6-2 victory for the New York Mets. He held them scoreless through 4 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts, and surrendered just two hits and two walks. This was his last Spring Training outing, finishing will 22 innings pitched with 19 strikeouts, 12 hits, 11 walks and an opponents’ batting average under well under .200.

 

Niese was confident in the first inning, inducing many swings and misses. He was bold enough to both throw a breaking ball outside of the strike zone on a 3-2 count and come directly after hitters, exceeding 90 miles per hour. Niese threw deceptive curveballs and cutters, weaving in and out of the strike zone.

He got through the second inning with a lower pitch count than the second inning. Some Astros made hard contact but the infield played solid defense to counter it, particularly on a play by Jordany Valdespin in which he tagged second base with his glove for a force out.

 

Niese executed a low curveball outside of the zone to get a swinging strikeout. That pitch could also be used to get him ahead in pitch counts. He pitched a measured variation between hard fastballs for strikes, cutters and curveballs to fool his opponents. The aggression of their swings shows that the Astros felt comfortable enough to make solid contact but instead were often too early, late or completely off the mark.

The fourth inning was a test for Niese’s composure. He had runners on first and second base with one out. In the past he had a tendency to fold under the pressure in those situations, but this time he held the runners in check by inducing two pop ups to end the fourth inning. Early last season he panicked when base runners were in scoring positions and allowed the opposing team to put up crooked numbers against the Mets after blanking them for three or four innings.

After retiring the leadoff batter in the fifth inning with a lazy groundout he stepped off the mound to a warm applause. He was sharp throughout his entire effort, but him not getting flustered with men was the most encouraging aspect of his outing. Niese is the ace of the rotation by default because Johan Santana is not yet healthy. But with Santana’s return date, if he returns at all, in question Niese is the leader of the rotation this season.

If he sticks to what he does best he has the potential to pitch over 200 innings, surpass 200 strikeouts and, perhaps, make an appearance at the 2013 All-Star Game in CitiField.

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What to Expect From Shawn Marcum

Shawn Marcum is the only significant free agent purchase the New York Mets made during the off-season. He is projected to be a more consistent pitcher than last year’s back-of-the-rotation starter Chris Young. Still, R.A. Dickey was one of a kind; Marcum cannot be expected to single handedly replace his production.

Marcum faced the Miami Marlins live at Tradition Field on March 16 as he warms up in spring training for the 2013 season. He allowed two runs with one walk and five hits, including an RBI triple, and no strikeouts over four innings.

He throws with a low velocity but induces weak groundball contact. Marcum got leadoff-batter Juan Pierre to groundout on two pitches for the first out.

He is effective when he locates his spots with accuracy, but otherwise one poor, slow toss from the veteran pitcher is susceptible to going out of the park. Placido Polanco launched an easy double with one out in the first inning.

The infield must be alert when he is on the mound to take advantage of the weak contact Marcum induces. Marcum is unlikely to strike out many batters at this point in his career, but his changeup is tough to hit for eager, free-swinging hitters. He may have difficulty against a patient lineup, however, if he loses command.

It is not fair, however, to assess Marcum in a game between the two bottom dwellers of the National League East. He may falter against a more powerful lineup; one mistake with a low-to-mid 80 mph fastball and it can get easily get smoked over the fence.

The key to Marcum’s season is staying healthy and eating innings. Otherwise, the Mets will have to rely on Minor League options.

The United States of Wrightmerica

The United States of Wrightmerica

David Wright may not be the official captain of the New York Mets, but he has already been donned Captain America in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

This is the same man who was denied a start at third base in the 2012 All-Star Game. The same man who was robbed of a Gold Glove last season. He had arguably the best season of his career, yet did not receive the proper recognition. Now the world knows: he is the leader of Team USA.

He is hitting for opposite field power, finding pitches to hit outside of the strike zone and flashing his leather. Wright sliced up some grand salami for Italy to feast on this past weekend and accounted for five of Team USA’s seven RBIs last night against Puerto Rico.

Never have I been so proud to be an American. Actually, I am half Korean and half white and tend to embrace my Asian heritage. I was rooting for Korea in the World Baseball Classic, but now it’s USA all the day.

And Wright is the reason for my newfound patriotism.

Flashback: David Wright Hands Walk-off to Philly

David Wright Hands Walk-off to Philly

The Mets-Phillies game at CitiField on July 5, 2012 was my favorite game from last season. My friend and I went to CitiField one day earlier on a sweltering Independence Day in hopes of watching New York hand Philadelphia a patriotic rout. Instead we were on the receiving end. But hey, at least some obnoxious P-hat wearing Phillies hand got kicked out of the stadium.

The following day I called out of work and decided to watch the Mets game at home. It had everything I wanted: a matchup against a division rival while we still had playoff hopes, tension and a come-from-behind victory capped off, a walk-off courtesy of All-Star David Wright. Daniel Murphy tied up the game with some timely hitting, and Jordany Valdespin even induced a hit by pitch with a good at-bat to keep our 9th inning rally alive.

Oh, and Jonathan Papelbon blew the save and had to walk off the mound with his head down and a deafening roar from Mets fans.

I have not seen such a thrilling Mets game since then, but who knows what excitement the 2013 season will bring. No matter where we fall in the National League East, if I can live another moment that induces me to run around the house, scream and shout I will be content.

Niese’s Pieces For the Tigers to Nibble

New York Mets southpaw Jonathan Niese and All-Star Detroit Tigers arm Justin Verlander went head-to-head on March 1, one month away from Opening Day.

Niese got through the first three Tigers hitters 1-2-3 in the first inning. He did allow a leadoff single but picked off the runner soon after. He is getting swings on his out-of-the-strike zone breaking pitches and getting ahead in counts.

Verlander responded with a 1-2-3 inning and did not allow anyone to reach first base. He took care of David Wright with three strikes, all down looking. Wright’s mind is probably on the World Baseball Classic; he did not even try to get a piece of Verlander. His allegiance to the Mets should take precedence over his country.

Another 1-2-3 for Niese in the second inning, no one is putting good wood on his cutter or fastball. Verlander still hadn’t allowed a hit or walk by the end of the second inning.

Niese’s ability to draw weak contact gets him out of trouble. He allowed an infield hit in the third inning with no outs but got the following batter to hit into a routine 4-6-3 double play. Three hits over three innings, with no one advancing beyond first base, and three K’s is not a bad way to start the day.

Verlander sent the Mets lineup down in order, nine in a row. Good thing he pitches for the American League, although the Mets do have a series against the Tigers in late August.

Jeurys Familia took over for Niese in the fourth inning and sent the first pitcher down on three straight strikes, two of them swinging. The second hitter he faced struck out swinging. He has a mid-90s fastball, and when he spots his pitches well and mixes in some breaking pitches, he could be lethal out of the bullpen.

Jordany Valdespin hit a single to lead off the first inning and then stole second. A sacrifice bunt and error later and he trots on home. If Valdespin can practice discipline and get on base he should be a shoe-in for leadoff.

But Spring Training tends to get unbearable after the third or fourth inning once the Mets bring up their prospect arms. As well as Niese pitched, the Amazins can easily blow away an easy win with a faulty bullpen.