May 16, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese (49) delivers a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

The Importance of Jonathon Niese and Shaun Marcum


Allow me to preface this with the following: regardless of how well both Jonathon Niese and Shaun Marcum perform for the remainder of the season, I don’t expect the Mets to completely erase the damage they’ve done to their record and have a miraculous run.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but it appears this team simply has too many holes to seriously compete.

Still, the performances of Niese and Marcum could be the difference between the Mets finishing with a respectable record or an atrocious one.  There are some fans who would rather see the Mets tank the season completely in order to set themselves up for a higher draft pick in 2014 (I sometimes find myself hoping this will happen in non-competitive years).  However, if the goal is to be competitive in 2014 – and if the payroll is partially dependent on this year’s attendance – it would behoove the Mets to wake up and compete.

This time last week, both Jonathon Niese and Shaun Marcum were being lumped in with Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner as major question marks.  Since then, Gee has done nothing to erase the doubts that are surrounding him, and Hefner has continued to bend but not break during his starts.  Niese and Marcum are a different story.

I was never all that concerned with Niese.  Prior to him getting back on track yesterday by tossing 7 1/3 innings of two run ball, he had been shelled twice in a row.  The first beating, though, came with Niese pitching through pain in his upper back/neck.  The second drubbing was (according to Niese) the result of him having altered his delivery to be able to pitch through that pain.  When you go back further, you’ll realize that although Niese’s peripherals weren’t great, his ERA heading into those two disastrous starts was 3.31.  Moreover, Niese had pitched two games in frigid conditions (in Minnesota and Colorado).

It was stunning to see people so quick to write Niese off, as if a handful of starts in April and early May were enough evidence to erase the strides he’d made over the last few seasons.  I thought it was simply a matter of time before Niese turned it around.  Marcum was a different story.

After signing an incentive laden one year deal with the Mets this winter, Marcum landed on the disabled list at the beginning of the year with a laundry list of maladies.  When he made his regular season debut and failed to get out of the fourth inning, most figured it was rust.  He then followed that rough start up with these lines: 4 1/3 innings pitched, three runs.  4 2/3 innings pitched, six runs.  Coming into his start a few nights ago, Marcum was sporting an unsightly 8.59 ERA.  Worse than the ERA, was the fact that he had become the first pitcher in the history of the Mets who failed to get out of the fifth inning in each of his first three starts.  It was fair to assume that Marcum would be the pitcher who’d get replaced when Zack Wheeler was summoned from AAA.  That was before his last start.

Before that game, Marcum noted that he felt the best he had all year.  During it, he backed that claim up.  He went 6 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits.  Aside from the results, his secondaries were sharp – especially his curve.  It was a stark difference from the slop he’d been throwing previously.  It’s too early to state with certainty that Marcum has turned the corner, but his last start was a huge step in the right direction.

During his interview earlier this week on WFAN, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson alluded to the fact that the Mets had only one reliable starting pitcher (Matt Harvey).  A few short days later, it appears that the team just might have three reliable starters (with a potential fourth waiting in the wings in AAA in the person of Zack Wheeler).

Again, the rotation rounding into shape won’t turn this team into contenders.  It won’t have any effect on Ike Davis‘ failure to make contact.  It won’t make the arms in the bullpen better, but it will help to prevent further overuse.

If Jonathon Niese and Shaun Marcum had kept going down the road they were on, this season could’ve turned into a complete fiasco.  Now that they’ve both seemingly righted themselves, the team finds itself on firmer ground.  If they can both continue to build off their recent starts, the Mets should be able to begin to climb out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves.  Perhaps not far enough to make the late summer interesting, but hopefully enough to keep the team respectable heading into a season when they hope to turn the corner.

 

 

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