He's the third-longest-tenured player on the team, he's a Mets lifer, and he's putting together one of the best seasons of his career. However, if you took the temperature of most Mets fans, Jon Niese is the forgotten man on a staff that is perhaps the most feared in baseball. It's crazy to think that only two months ago, Niese's spot in the rotation—not to mention on the roster—may have actually been in jeopardy, but the way the veteran lefty has turned his season around has been nothing short of spectacular.
Last night's two-run, seven-inning performance was the latest in a string of outings that has helped solidify Niese's role spot in the rotation. Nelson Figueroa said last night on the post-game show that he believes it was when Dillon Gee was designated for assignment by the Mets on June 15 that Niese realized that even though he was a veteran of this team, his spot was by no means safe. With top prospect Steven Matz waiting for his opportunity to get a shot in the bigs, Niese's spot as the lefty starter was no longer assured.
Niese responded, and has pitched as well over the past two months as at any time in recent memory. Here's how he has fared month-by-month in 2015:
Over the last five or six week, Niese has been walking fewer batters, keeping the ball in the ballpark, and inducing weaker contact. He's not a strikeout pitcher—he pitches to contact and relies on his fielders to turn batted balls into outs—so it's not surprising that allowing fewer free passes and limiting home runs has led to demonstrably better success.
For Niese, it's all about executing his pitches, and as he said after the game last night, the newfound offense is doing wonders for his confidence:
"At any given point we know we can bust out for three or four runs. That helps us pitchers out. We can go after guys and not worry about making mistakes."
Terry Collins doesn't need any fancy stats to tell him that Niese is a great pitcher. He talked about what he thinks makes Niese so special:
"I love Jon Niese, because he competes. He never wants to come out of a game. He doesn't care what the score is. He doesn't care how he's doing. He doesn't want to come out of a game. I argue with him every night . . . He doesn't care who's getting the headlines as long as he gets the ball. He's pitching very, very well."
Who knows where Niese fits in with this staff long term. He's owed $9 million in 2016 with two team options after that, but with Steven Matz looking like the lefty of the future in the rotation, Niese may find himself on the trade market as the odd man out. For now, though, Niese is pitching well and giving the Mets a good chance to win every time he takes the mound, even if he doesn't have to throw 98 MPH to do so.