Mets thoughts: Jon Niese’s start to the season has been worrisome

By Danny Abriano

With the exception of his third start of the season, Jon Niese has lacked velocity and been hit hard in 2015. On Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, Niese turned in his most alarming performance so far.

With his fastball sitting between 87 and 88 MPH for the majority of Sunday night’s game, things caved in on Niese in the second inning, when he allowed four consecutive run-scoring hits (including three doubles) with two outs as the Yankees took a 5-2 lead.

Overall, Niese allowed six runs (four earned) on eight hits while walking one and striking out three in five innings of work.

Coming into Sunday night’s game, Niese’s ERA was in the mid-1’s, but a look at his FIP (which sat close to 5.00) suggested that he was due for regression.

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As is noted above, Niese has struggled in three of his four starts this season, only emerging with an ERA under 3.00 because he’s been able to escape trouble more often than not.

In 23 innings pitched so far this season, Niese has allowed 37 base runners – amounting to a 1.61 WHIP. Niese’s K/9 rate is 5.48, and although it’s very early in the season, that would be by far the lowest of his career.

Niese’s average fastball velocity so far this season is 88.4 MPH, nearly identical to the 88.5 MPH he averaged in 2014. The velocity so far this season seems to be skewed a bit high due to the fact that according to the TV radar gun, Niese sat around 90 MPH and touched 92 MPH a number of times in his most recent start before Sunday night. However, the numbers at Brooks Baseball have Niese’s velocity for his third start in line with his season average.

If there was extra life on Niese’s fastball during his third start of the season, it totally disappeared on Sunday night – with Niese sitting around 87 MPH far too often. So, what’s going on with Niese?

After Sunday’s loss, Niese said he felt good and that he only wishes he could have a few pitches back.

During Spring Training, Niese said that this season was the best he’s felt health-wise in a long time, but the fact remains that Niese is dealing with unresolved shoulder issues and has been altering his mechanics over the last few seasons in order to avoid pain.

Unless Niese is in severe pain, he’ll likely continue to do what he’s been doing over the last few seasons: pitch through whatever shoulder issue he has, while his velocity suffers because of it.

The question for the Mets is how long they’ll keep turning to Niese if his results don’t improve soon. A WHIP above 1.60 is untenable, and there’s really nothing so far this season to suggest Niese is about to start limiting the amount of batters who reach base against him.

With Rafael Montero coming up for a spot start on Tuesday, and with both Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard knocking on the door, Niese could be joining Dillon Gee as starting pitchers whose jobs are in jeopardy.