What to watch for in Jon Niese's return from the disabled list

Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Jon Niese was not himself before he hit the disabled list for just shy of two months.

Jon Niese last pitched for the Mets on June 20. He gave up 3 runs in 3.1 innings that day and departed with a 4.32 ERA on the season. Shortly thereafter, Niese was on the shelf with a partially torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder.

While the ERA wasn't particularly troubling, the injury was. And Niese's strikeout and walk rates were completely out of line with his career numbers before this year.

Year(s) IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP
2008-2012 561 7.54 2.76 0.95 .311 4.06 3.78
2013 77 5.73 3.86 0.58 .331 4.32 3.98

There were a couple of really poor starts in there, but Niese managed to limit the damage despite the strikeout and walk problems. His 54.6 percent groundball rate this year was significantly higher than his 48.9 percent rate before this year, an increase that coincided with a drop in the percentage of fly balls hit against him from 30.5 to 25.4. Pre-disabled list Niese was a very different pitcher from the guy the Mets had seen over the past few years.

Niese's rehab assignment in the minors went well. In three starts, he had 11 strikeouts, 4 walks, and a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings of work. He should do well, of course, against minor league competition, but the results were encouraging.

There's been plenty of talk about the Mets' younger pitchers—Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia, and prospects still in the minors—but Niese was seen as a vital piece of the Mets' future coming into this season. He's in the second year of the five-year contract he signed with the Mets, a team-friendly deal that also includes two years of team options.

If things don't get better, the deal shouldn't be an albatross for the Mets, but a return to Niese's former production would be a welcome sight down the stretch this year. And it would make next year's potential rotation look even better than it already does.

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