Scooter Searching For His Groove

By Taryn “The Coop” Cooper

You know what I was really encouraged by with Jon Niese’s first start of the season this Sunday?

Not what you’re thinking. Not that he had no-hit the Braves for 6+ innings.  Not that he even had a shutout.

Know what it was?

That he didn’t start out strong.

Think about it.  He looked very shaky at first.  He walked a lot of Braves batters.  Though he didn’t give up a hit (and being in the crowd, I was thinking about the last time I was in a situation like this, in 2007 when John Maine started against the Marlins) in six innings, he took about an inning or two before he calmed down.

And he did.

He got himself out of jams.  He was cerebral and knew what he was throwing.  After being jumpy, he came around and finished strong.  He was around 100 pitches when Terry Collins took him out, and he may have had the yips too around then.  But this was after NO HITTING the Braves for six innings.  It’s also the first game of the season for him.

So call me the card-carrying member of the Jonathon Joseph Niese Fan Club (New York chapter).  He proved to me that he gets it.

People have asked me what I think about the Niese contract extension.  Or as I like to call it, “restructuring.”  And I tell them the truth: I love it.

It may reflect the new NEW Mets business plan, as Carlos Beltran once waxed poetic on in 2005.

But it also shows that they’re willing to make an investment in a homegrown player, and one of a pitching variety.

Look at his outliers.  He’s a young lefty pitcher.  He’s homegrown.  The Mets have never made a goodwill treatment historically to their home grown players.  By restructuring his contract, they are able to avoid arbitration, so he’s guaranteed money but it’s not a wildly inappropriate value.  (See: Pelfrey, Michael).

It shows that the Mets ownership have turned a corner, financially.  They’re not completely out of the woods, but since a large part of their financial woes had to do with the uncertainty of the Bernie Madoff settlement has been settled, they can make a deal like this to show they are willing and can invest in the future.

It doesn’t hamstring them to the point where he’s not tradeable, if it comes to that.  It’s more money, but not too much money.   It’s more years, not many more.  And lastly, the market for young lefty pitchers is competitive.  By avoiding arbitration, they’re able to lock him in at a realistic and human value.

Unlike many Mets moves, this is not putting the cart before the horse but showing confidence in a young guy who can be an integral part of the team’s future, short and long term.

Prior to seeing Bruce Springsteen play at the Garden on Friday last week, two of the people I went to the show with asked me why now?  Why extend Niese now?  He still gets hurt each year.  I said that his injuries have never been pitching injuries, but conditioning injuries.

In R.A. Dickey’s book, Wherever I Wind Up, he tells some of the young arms to try to never go on the DL if they can help it.  I think that’s good and bad advice.  Good to the extent that these guys can toughen up.  Bad that maybe a skipped start would be beneficial to young guys like Niese if the grind is getting a bit much.  I will say this…when I saw him warming up in the ‘pen before the game, he looked good.  He was in a great shape and looks to take his conditioning seriously.

Couple that with that he was able to calm himself down early on in the game, and staying strong for the rest…like Scooter in “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” Jon Niese is searching for his groove.

And maybe, he just getting it back on.

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