Niese Working On Command

After such a wonderful long-season league debut with the Hagerstown Suns in 2006 where he went 11-9 with a 3.93 ERA and 132 strikeouts in a little more than 123 innings in the South Atlantic League as a 19-year old, left-handed pitcher Jonathon Niese saw his stock in the Mets organization soaring.

And when he began the 2007 season posting a 1.17 ERA in his first three starts with the St. Lucie Mets as one of the youngest pitchers in the Florida State League, it appeared the sky was the limit for the Mets' young phenom.

But a 7.12 ERA in his following eight starts brought him back down earth. Experiencing some failure for the first extended period in his career, Niese realizes he has to make some adjustments.

"I'm feeling good," Niese admitted. "I don't want to make excuses and say I had tough breaks but it's one of those deals right now where I feel good on the mound but I'm not getting things done the way I want to."

"Like last year, I had a slow start and progressively got better. Now this year it seems I got off to too good a start and it seems like I'm going downhill. I think things will turn around."

Part of the reason for his struggles is a new approach on the mound. After striking out more batters than innings pitched in 18 of his 25 starts with the Hagerstown Suns a year ago, but pitching more than six innings in just one of his starts, he realized he needed to find a way to pitch deeper into games.

"That's the reason I don't have as many strikeouts," he said of pitching more to contact this season. "I'm not trying to strike guys out. I can strike out guys if I want to, but every pitch I'm looking for a guy to swing and hit the ball so my defense can make the play. That's the reason I don't have as many strikeouts."

Not only is Niese pitching to contact more, but he is still developing his offspeed pitches, specifically improving his changeup.

"It's different than last year," he said of his changeup. "It still needs work. It's real inconsistent right now. I can say that about all of my offspeed pitches right now. It's real inconsistent, that's something I need to work on."

Happy with his fastball command, the big thing Niese wants to improve with his changeup - and with his curveball as well - is throwing it with more command and spotting it in all four quadrants of the plate.

"The location," he said of how his changeup is inconsistent. "The speed is good. I checked to see how I was changing speeds and the speeds were fine. The grips are fine. I just need to command it a lot better."

He admits improving the command of his offspeed pitches is the remedy for his struggles in 2007, even though his pitching coach and manager both believe his command issues are par for the course of a burgeoning big league pitching prospect.

"I think the main thing is overall, if you want to call it composure on the mound or the ability to stay focused, that's been a big thing he's done," St. Lucie manager Frank Cacciatore said of Niese. "He continues to improve steadily on the quality of his pitches and working hitters the right way, staying down in the zone."

Cacciatore also served as Niese's manager in Hagerstown last season and he has seen his development over the last two years first-hand.

"His curveball is getting better and better and his changeup is coming along," said the St. Lucie skipper. "But I think the overall maturity, the transition from a half-season to a full-season last year, to this year, he's much more advanced. Even though he has had his trials, that's going to happen. He's throwing real well."

St. Lucie pitching coach Dan Murray concurs with Cacciatore, pointing out that Niese's struggles are expected of a young pitcher and that in fact, they're an integral part of his development.

"He's been great. He works hard, he learns quick, and he's a good student of the game. I didn't see him much last year, but from what I've seen this year is he's very intent on learning and understanding the game. He's just been great to help out, basically," said Murray.

"The curveball has developed real nicely. He's done a great job with that. He's throwing strikes with it, throwing it as a swing-and-miss pitch, he's been fantastic. The changeup is coming along nicely, so things are looking good for him."

"He just needs innings," Murray exclaimed. "He's doing great with everything and the more innings he gets, the quicker he's going to develop."

As Niese continues to get more innings and becomes more comfortable with his offspeed pitches, he believes better location in the zone will help him rediscover his early season magic.

"It's the same thing with every pitch," said Niese. "I just need to not leave everything over the plate and spot both sides of the plate a lot better. In the beginning of the year I wasn't, I was down in the zone real well."

"Now I'm up in the zone a lot more than I want to be. I think that's the reason why I'm struggling. I think I need to pound the bottom of the zone a lot more."

"It's one of those things where I had all of my offspeed pitches and everything perfectly commanded in Spring Training and I took for it granted. I think I lost my focus a little bit and that's why I'm struggling. I just need to focus and make better pitches."

Experiencing the first speed bump in his career, neither the Mets nor Niese himself seem too worried as both sides believe his command issues will be ironed out over time.

"Just to take one inning at a time," Niese listed as his top priority for the remainder of the season. "I know that's a cliche but I've really got to take one inning at a time, keep putting up zeros, and lower my ERA."

Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nAnd when he began the 2007 season posting a 1.17 ERA in his first three starts with the St. Lucie Mets as one of the youngest pitchers in the Florida State League, it appeared the sky was the limit for the Mets' young phenom.
\r\n
\r\nBut a 7.12 ERA in his following eight starts brought him back down earth. Experiencing some failure for the first extended period in his career, Niese realizes he has to make some adjustments.
\r\n
\r\n\"I'm feeling good,\" Niese admitted. \"I don't want to make excuses and say I had tough breaks but it's one of those deals right now where I feel good on the mound but I'm not getting things done the way I want to.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"Like last year, I had a slow start and progressively got better. Now this year it seems I got off to too good a start and it seems like I'm going downhill. I think things will turn around.\"
\r\n
\r\nPart of the reason for his struggles is a new approach on the mound. After striking out more batters than innings pitched in 18 of his 25 starts with the Hagerstown Suns a year ago, but pitching more than six innings in just one of his starts, he realized he needed to find a way to pitch deeper into games.
\r\n
\r\n\"That's the reason I don't have as many strikeouts,\" he said of pitching more to contact this season. \"I'm not trying to strike guys out. I can strike out guys if I want to, but every pitch I'm looking for a guy to swing and hit the ball so my defense can make the play. That's the reason I don't have as many strikeouts.\"
\r\n
\r\nNot only is Niese pitching to contact more, but he is still developing his offspeed pitches, specifically improving his changeup.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's different than last year,\" he said of his changeup. \"It still needs work. It's real inconsistent right now. I can say that about all of my offspeed pitches right now. It's real inconsistent, that's something I need to work on.\"
\r\n
\r\nHappy with his fastball command, the big thing Niese wants to improve with his changeup - and with his curveball as well - is throwing it with more command and spotting it in all four quadrants of the plate.
\r\n
\r\n\"The location,\" he said of how his changeup is inconsistent. \"The speed is good. I checked to see how I was changing speeds and the speeds were fine. The grips are fine. I just need to command it a lot better.\"
\r\n
\r\nHe admits improving the command of his offspeed pitches is the remedy for his struggles in 2007, even though his pitching coach and manager both believe his command issues are par for the course of a burgeoning big league pitching prospect.
\r\n
\r\n\"I think the main thing is overall, if you want to call it composure on the mound or the ability to stay focused, that's been a big thing he's done,\" St. Lucie manager Frank Cacciatore said of Niese. \"He continues to improve steadily on the quality of his pitches and working hitters the right way, staying down in the zone.\"
\r\n
\r\nCacciatore also served as Niese's manager in Hagerstown last season and he has seen his development over the last two years first-hand.
\r\n
\r\n\"His curveball is getting better and better and his changeup is coming along,\" said the St. Lucie skipper. \"But I think the overall maturity, the transition from a half-season to a full-season last year, to this year, he's much more advanced. Even though he has had his trials, that's going to happen. He's throwing real well.\"
\r\n
\r\nSt. Lucie pitching coach Dan Murray concurs with Cacciatore, pointing out that Niese's struggles are expected of a young pitcher and that in fact, they're an integral part of his development.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's been great. He works hard, he learns quick, and he's a good student of the game. I didn't see him much last year, but from what I've seen this year is he's very intent on learning and understanding the game. He's just been great to help out, basically,\" said Murray.
\r\n
\r\n\"The curveball has developed real nicely. He's done a great job with that. He's throwing strikes with it, throwing it as a swing-and-miss pitch, he's been fantastic. The changeup is coming along nicely, so things are looking good for him.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"He just needs innings,\" Murray exclaimed. \"He's doing great with everything and the more innings he gets, the quicker he's going to develop.\"
\r\n
\r\nAs Niese continues to get more innings and becomes more comfortable with his offspeed pitches, he believes better location in the zone will help him rediscover his early season magic.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's the same thing with every pitch,\" said Niese. \"I just need to not leave everything over the plate and spot both sides of the plate a lot better. In the beginning of the year I wasn't, I was down in the zone real well.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"Now I'm up in the zone a lot more than I want to be. I think that's the reason why I'm struggling. I think I need to pound the bottom of the zone a lot more.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"It's one of those things where I had all of my offspeed pitches and everything perfectly commanded in Spring Training and I took for it granted. I think I lost my focus a little bit and that's why I'm struggling. I just need to focus and make better pitches.\"
\r\n
\r\nExperiencing the first speed bump in his career, neither the Mets nor Niese himself seem too worried as both sides believe his command issues will be ironed out over time.
\r\n
\r\n\"Just to take one inning at a time,\" Niese listed as his top priority for the remainder of the season. \"I know that's a cliche but I've really got to take one inning at a time, keep putting up zeros, and lower my ERA.\"
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