The story for the New York Mets in April was their dominance on the mound. While the Mets have struggled to score runs out of the gate, they have a surprising 15-11 record thanks to strong starting pitching. The Mets' starters have given the team a chance to win almost every time out, and their success has been a key to maintaining the team's winning formula. It should come as no surprise, then, that a member of the starting rotation is taking home the very first Met of the Month award in 2014. That man is starting pitcher Jonathon Niese.
Niese entered the 2014 season with the expectation that he could assume the mantle of staff ace after Matt Harvey was lost for the year with Tommy John surgery. Niese's season debut was delayed by a week after injuries curtailed his spring training preparation. Once Niese arrived, however, he has flashed the form of an ace.
Niese went 2-2 with a 2.20 ERA in the month of April, but his won-loss record is deceiving. Niese could have easily won all five of his starts. Niese was a tough luck loser in his first outing of the year, giving up only two runs but losing 2-1 on April 6th when the Mets couldn't muster up more than one run against Cincinnati Reds' starter Alfredo Simon. Niese was in line for a win in his second start of the year, allowing only three runs over 7.1 innings against the Los Angeles Angels. Jose Valverde blew the save for him, however, surrendering a three run homer to Raul Ibanez in the bottom of the ninth. Niese also found himself on the wrong end of a pitcher's duel on April 18th, giving up only one run over six innings in a game where the Mets got one hit by Aaron Harang and two Braves' relievers.
Niese has won his last two starts, but he has also been a rock for the Mets' staff over the entire season. Niese has gone at least six innings in each of his last four starts. Niese also has an outstanding 24:8 strikeout to walk ratio, showcasing an improvement in his control. Niese's WHIP is also a very tidy 1.04, much lower than the 1.44 mark he posted last season and closer to his career best 1.17 WHIP from 2012. Niese has also been dominant against left handed hitters so far, holding southpaws to a .152 batting average in the early going.
Niese is entering his age 27 season, an age when a lot of players tend to figure out how to make the most of their abilities. The Mets have to hope that this strong start is a sign that Niese has figured out how to become a very successful front line starter. In all the talk of the team's young pitchers, Niese often gets lost in the shuffle. This is similar to what happened to Andy Pettitte with the Yankees early in his career, when he was just there in the rotation alongside Roger Clemens, David Cone, David Wells, and Orlando Hernandez. Pettitte went on to have a long and successful career as a reliable left hander. We're not suggesting that Niese is the second coming of Pettitte, but the Mets would simply be happy if Niese can be the capable lefty in a group of talented young righties going forward.
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