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.