On Tuesday night, the Philadelphia Phillies torched Jon Niese for the second time in six days. Niese surrendered six runs before the bullpen threw gas on the open flame, giving him 23 hits and 18 runs allowed over his past three starts.
Niese is not an amazing pitcher, and that's okay. When a young ace or Bartolo Colon at-bats occupy every other game, the 28-year-old becomes the group's Britta Perry, even when he's performing fine. When he's not, bring out the pitchforks.
Yes, there are reasons to worry. After his last three blunders, he sports a 4.17 ERA and career-worst 4.44 FIP. While he's generating ground balls at a career-high 53.8 percent clip, he is also missing few bats. Opponents have whiffed at only 5.9 percent of his strikes, down from his 7.6 average.
Then again, he got shelled at Coors Field and Citizens Bank Park before Tuesday's treacherous start. While it's easy to pillory him for falling to the Phillies, they're actually a near-league-average offense against lefties. After taking Niese deep in both games, Darin Ruf now wields a 1.061 OPS versus southpaws. The matchup isn't as easy as it initially appears.
Also, even the best pitchers endure rough patches. It wouldn't be too hard to recycle angry cries from late May, when Niese yielded 23 runs in a four-start stint. He then had a 2.88 ERA in 13 outings preceding August 22's seven-run hiccup at Colorado. Per the New York Post's Brian Lewis, he's not overly concerned about recently halting his rebound.
"Zero concern," Niese said. "I know what I need to do, I know I'm capable of doing it. It's just going out and doing it."
Throwing Steven Matz back into the mix, Niese is probably the Mets' sixth-best starter. That could easily change in a week or two by pairing a bounce-back outing with a blow-up from Colon. Let's allow the final month to transpire before playing the postseason rotation game.
Even a slightly regressed version of Niese makes a sturdy back-end starter. It's easy to get spoiled by a great starting staff, but a rotation rarely sees every member rolling simultaneously. Let's take a deep breath before excommunicating a solid source of innings since 2010.