Despite the facetious headline and results, Jon Niese gave fans reason to believe there will be some competent pitching outside of Johan Santana this season. While John Maine quickly shied away from his mediocre fastball last night, showing the Marlins all his secondary pitches by the end of the first inning, Niese came out with the opposite game plan. Of his 92 pitches, 81 (88%) were some variety of fastball, the distribution being roughly 40 fourseamers, 20 cutters and 20 two-seamers. Niese threw all three pitches for a high percentage of strikes and swinging strikes. Surprisingly, he only went to his curveball 5 times and only once for a strike. It's puzzling to see Niese abandon his best pitch for an entire game, but if he can combine today's strong fastballs and command with a good curve in future games, he'll be successful.
Better defense would have also helped, but Niese isn't blameless in his 8 hits allowed. The groundballs that beat Wright and Tatis and lead to runs weren't gimmes by any means. More notably in the field, Angel Pagan and Luis Castillo proved what everyone already knew: Gary Matthews should be benched and Luis Castillo sent via rocket to the moon. Ruben Tejada looked slick at shortstop in his major league debut, albeit not tested too much. I think Keith summed up my thoughts on Ruben's debut perfectly when he said, "Needs to take the puka shells off."
The culprit in the loss was, of course, the offense, despite Jerry Manuel constructing the first sensible lineup of the season. The Mets walked 0 times against a starter who walked 5 batters per nine innings last season and otherwise had no answer to the soft-tossing lefty. Nate Robertson shouldn't be underestimated as a decent starter, but it was a pretty pitiful performance, especially considering the extreme platoon advantage of the Mets lineup against lefties. Hopefully familiarity will lead to a better performance next time.
Burke Badenhop came in for three dominant innings of relief, saving the beleaguered and embarrassed Marlins bullpen. Leo Nunez got the save despite throwing 40 pitches the night before. Overall, the Mets hit a few deep flyballs into the gaps, which were tracked down by the speedy outfielders Cameron Maybin and Cody Ross, and barely tested the suspect Florida infield. Francoeur and Pagan each had two hits, which hopefully pushes Matthews out of the lineup for a few games.
On a positive note, the bullpen pitched better. Ryoto Igarashi came in and threw pretty erratically to Cameron Maybin, walking him on five pitches. He then settled down and got Hanley Ramirez to ground in to a double play and Jorge Cantu to pop out on two 95-mph splitters. Hisanori Takahashi mixed pitches and speeds well in the eighth, retiring the side in order. After Tak walked the first batter of the ninth, Manuel played match-ups with Pedro Feliciano and Fernando Nieve, who he already figures to use a lot this season.
The Mets start a series against the Nats tomorrow and will have to hit better against a similarly soft-tossing lefty in John Lannan, when Reyes returns Saturday.
Niese, like a '60s
Beauty pageant protester,
Big winners: Jeff Wincoeur +14.3%
Big losers: Fernando Tatis -15.1%, David Wright -12.3%
Teh aw3s0mest play: Jeff Francoeur's double off Robertson +16.5%
Teh sux0rest play: Jorge Cantu's double off Niese -16.4%
Total pitcher WPA: -2.1%
Total batter WPA: -47.9%
Nice job by Keith'sMoustache; his effort in the game thread and the broadcast booth embiggens us all.