Niese needs a little help from his friends on D
Mets left-hander has surrendered 11 unearned runs already this season
The surface is synthetic, and it may not be as green as the natural lawns Jon Niese is accustomed to. He may see the other team's grass as greener, though. Indeed, it might serve as an ally when Niese pitches against the Blue Jays in Toronto this evening. It may be an ally to his defense as well; a needed ally for this reason: the Mets' defense has been wholly unreliable whenever Niese has pitched.
The defensive flaws have given Niese an unwanted distinction. He has surrendered the second-most unearned runs in the big leagues, with 11. At the same time, the Mets have committed more errors (13) when he has pitched than 28 other teams have committed with any other pitcher on the mound. Only the A's, who have made 16 errors with Jesse Hahn pitching, have done more to sabotage one of their own.
Hahn has persevered through the poor support, allowing eight unearned runs in his 77 innings. The 11 allowed by Niese have come in 70 innings. Andrew Cashner of the Padres has allowed the most unearned runs -- 13 -- and he has thrown 85 innings.
Niese was only generally aware of the circumstances when he was approached Saturday.
"Yeah, I know," he said as if resigned to his fate. "It's not something I'm proud of."
But what can he do? He'd have to add some swing-and-miss stuff to his repertoire. And at age 28, he's not about increase his velocity by a significant margin or add inches to the break of his offspeed stuff.
The problem is, Niese doesn't deal well with the adversity his defenders create. His Mets colleagues -- Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon and the relievers can achieve outs more readily without relying on the defense. Through Tuesday, Niese had accounted for 12 percent of all the Mets' innings pitched. And the Mets had committed 31 percent of their 42 errors with him pitching.
So maybe the artificial turf at Rogers Centre will help tonight when Niese (3-6, 4.24 ERA) makes his 13th start. Then again, the Blue Jays are a fly-ball hitting team and, more than that, a homer-hitting team. The surface may not be particularly influential.
The Mets held Toronto to five runs in 20 combined innings at Citi Field on Monday and Tuesday nights -- this after the Blue Jays had won 11-straight games and averaged eight runs per game in that sequence.
Of course, Niese is not the first pitcher seemingly sabotaged by his defense, and certainly not the first Mets pitcher done in by his defense. Bobby Jones, the right-handed one, was frequently hurt by his teammates. In his first three big league seasons (1993-95), Jones allowed 45 unearned runs, the most in the big leagues and nearly one unearned run per nine innings. And in his first season with a different team -- 2001, with the Padres -- he surrendered 26 unearned. In between 1995-2001, he allowed a more normal 25.
"It's just another part of the learning process," Jones said late in the 2000 season. He had allowed merely three unearned runs in 214 innings, covering 1999 and 2000. "It's like any other adversity you face. You just have to deal with it. You can't try to throw harder because something went wrong behind you. Errors can hurt you, but if a guy reaches base on an error … if you can help it, it shouldn't hurt you more than a walk or a single.
"You just have to keep thinking positive and stay with what you've been doing. I'm not saying it's easy, but it can be done."