And then there were two. Three fifths of the starting rotation the Mets began the season with have now landed on the disabled list. After last Friday’s game, the Mets placed Johan Santana on the 15-day DL to nurse his still unhealed sprained ankle, but to also prevent him from overcompensating and putting undue stress on his shoulder while pitching, as he has done already. This leaves R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese as the remaining healthy members of the starting rotation.
As members of the Mets’ front five continue to fall by the way side, so too has the Mets’ season record suffered along with their position in the standings. Sporting what many thought could be, and appeared to be, a formidable starting five, the Mets rode strong starting pitching in the first half of the season. But July has been nothing but trouble. Injuries are taking their toll on the starting rotation, and the team’s fortunes are falling commensurately.
The Mets began the season 9-8 before Mike Pelfrey hit the DL on April 24th. By May 2nd, the Mets were still playing at the .500 mark with a 13-13 record. But between April 25th and July 6th, the Mets compiled a 36-31 record. That gave them a 49-44 record overall to that point. July 6th is when Johan Santana sprained his ankle on a play covering first base against the Cubs. The Mets were 1-1 in the following last two games before the All-Star break.
Then on July 10th, Dillon Gee officially joined Mike Pelfrey on the disabled list. In Dillon Gee’s absence since July 11th to the present, the Mets have proceeded to crumble at a 1-7 rate. Go back to Johan spraining his ankle on July 6th, and the Mets have gone 2-8 since that time. On Sunday morning, the New York Mets wake up as a .500 ball club again for the first time since May 2nd, this time with a 47-47 record. So, yes Virginia, there is a correlation. It’s all relative.
Throughout the season and in this blog, I have been somewhat demanding that Jon Niese start to distinguish himself. There has been a game here and there where I felt he didn’t exactly seize the moment. Along the way, I’ve felt he failed to get a win in the first game of a given series, or get the Mets a fourth consecutive win a few times to extend a winning streak. Those are petty issues. I know. I’m just trying to size-up some expectations for the young hurler.
However, in spite of me, the fact is he is indeed distinguishing himself. Unfortunately, there is no glory in accumulating no-decisions. His last start is a perfect example. Jon pitched seven full innings, allowed three hits, and one earned run. He struck out eight batters and walked none. Yet, that wasn’t good enough to win the game. The bullpen wound up deleting his effort against the first place Nationals in a crushing 5-4 loss.
Jon Niese has made eighteen starts this season. In eleven of those starts, Jon pitched at least six innings or better (actually one start was only five innings), while allowing TWO runs or less. And please do not make me say quality start, because Jon Niese’s starts were better. But as was the case in that last effort against Washington, his chief nemesis remains giving up the late inning home run. Jon remains one pitch per game away from truly being included in the conversation regarding the National League’s top notch, and clutch performers. He is getting closer though.
For now however, the line-up’s inability to generate more runs for the lefty has been his second biggest problem. Over these highlighted eleven starts, Jon has compiled a 6-0 record, with five no-decisions. His ERA is currently as low as it’s been since April 26th. And a further breakdown reveals he allowed two runs in four games, allowed a lone run four times, and surrendered no runs on three other occasions.
Jon Niese will now be asked to do even more. R.A. Dickey’s last few outings have hinted he may not pitch as spectacularly as he did in the first half. But being spectacular should not be confused with pitching effectively. I think R.A. will continue to be just fine in that respect. With the starting rotation’s ranks thinning however, may good health continue to find favor with these two remaining pitchers.
For Jon Niese in particular, he is more a part of the Mets’ future than Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey combined. Today’s series finale against the Dodgers is just the next exercise in the developement of Jon Niese. But he is also building towards being a leader for the young pitchers to be promoted next year. It would be nice, if not desperately needed by his team, if Jon Niese takes a major bite out of the dog days of Summer today, be a stopper, and turn his team’s fortunes around. He can not deliver the Mets anywhere by himself. But, he can certainly – “Announce his presence with authority” this afternoon.