One of the bright spots for the Mets last season was young lefthander Jon Niese, who recovered from a devastating injury in August 2009 to pitch a very good season in his first year as a starter in 2010.
Niese was injured August 2009 after stretching awkwardly covering first base and then he completely tore his hamstring attempting a warmup pitch, collapasing to the ground as yet another casualty of the injury plagued 2009 Mets.
He surprised many when he showed up to Spring Training fully recovered in 2010, and he ended up winning a rotation spot and pitched well in his first full season in the big leagues.
Niese admits the rigors of a full season got to him by the end of the season, and he faded down the stretch as he pitched more innings than he ever had before in his baseball career.
But despite that, Niese still finished with 9 wins, a 4.20 ERA (and a 3.80 xFIP) and a 7.67 K/9.
Niese added a cutter to his arsenal last year, and the pitch was pretty successful for him, especially against righties. He threw it roughly once every four pitches and it really helped him set up his best out pitch, his great curveball.
Niese certainly had his ups and downs as a rookie, from his complete game one-hit shutout against the Padres in June to his awful September when he just ran out of gas, but he showed a lot of promise overall.
No longer fighting for a playoff spot, Niese is being counted on as the top lefty in the Mets rotation this year as Johan Santana recovers from offseason surgery. Niese will anchor the top of the rotation with Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey.
One thing I've always liked about Niese is his competiveness on the mound. He's a gamer, and you rarely see him buck under pressure when he's out there. He's got great poise for a kid so young, and that confidence really goes a long way.
As I've mentioned before on this blog, Niese shares a very special birthday with bullpen hopeful Pedro Beato. Both were born on October 27th, 1986, the day that the Mets won Game 7 of the World Series at Shea Stadium.
Although he may not have been "born to be a Met" like Beato, who grew up a Mets fan in New York City, it is pretty cool that the Mets have a pitcher in their starting rotation born on that amazin' date.
Niese admitted this week that he did still feel discomfort in hamstring after offseason surgery last spring, but he fought through it and was one of the Mets most effective starters as a rookie.
He made his spring debut last Tuesday allowing two hits and a couple of two-out walks along with two strikeouts in three scoreless innings against the Nationals. True to his competitive demeanor, the 24-year-old was not satisfied.
“Obviously, there are more things to work on,” Niese said after the game. “You can’t issue two-out walks.”
Niese will make his second spring start Sunday afternoon against the Red Sox, and although it hasn't been announced yet, he will likely be the number two starter to open the regular season behind Mike Pelfrey.
With a full season under his belt, the young lefthander could be poised to really make a name for himself in 2011. The Mets are counting on him to step up in his second season and prove that he's no flash in the pan.
Niese is a smart pitcher with good stuff and good poise on the mound. It would not surprise me to see him breakout and win 14+ games in 2011.