"He threw the ball fine," Terry Collins said after the game. "He had the flu three days ago, so I thought he pitched very well. The fact he had to really pitch hard to get out of a couple of jams, I think wore him out a little bit. But he kept us in the game. He threw the ball good."
Niese fell to 10-8 with a 3.55 ERA in 26 starts this season.
"Right now I pretty much just have a cough," Niese explained after the game. "I'm just hacking up some stuff. I really didn't feel like I had much energy out there today. I just battled through it."
Niese has gone at least six innings and has walked two batters or less in each of his last 16 starts - he has a 3.04 ERA in 109 2/3 innings over that span, dating back to June 3.
Niese clearly wasn't at his best yesterday, and I'm sure his illness was a contributing factor to that. Still, he pitched pretty well - the Phillies just pecked away at him and the Mets offense had no response to it.
He relied on his cutter a lot yesterday but effectively mixed in his curveball and recorded a couple of key outs on the ground with that pitch. He didn't get many swings and misses but the Phillies didn't hit the ball particularly hard against him either. But when he did get into trouble, he did a good job of managing those innings. It's no secret Niese has struggled at times, especially earlier in the season, to stop the bleeding and limit the damage. But yesterday (and in his prior outing), he worked out of some tough jams and kept the team in the game. That's all that can be asked when he's not 100 percent physically.
It's been important for Niese to grow and mature into what he's capable of being as a Major League pitcher. He throws hard and has outstanding breaking pitches, but up until now, it's all been a little raw. Over his last 15-20 starts, it's evident Niese has taken the next step. He's learned how to better mix his curveball and cutter while not relying heavily on one or the other. He's also learning to be more efficient and pitch more to his defense, evident by his low walk totals and longer outings over his last 16 starts. But he's also learning how to pitch when he's not at his best. In his last two starts, his stuff hasn't been quite as sharp, yet he's been able to manange that, stay within himself and not meltdown. I'm looking forward to seeing this entire package from start to finish in 2013.