Jon Niese is coming off perhaps the rockiest start of his major league career, serving up four homers to one of baseball’s most prolific power-hitting teams.
Perhaps he’ll fare better against a team that hits less frequently than any.
The Mets (23-20) were hoping to see Niese (2-2, 4.85 ERA) take a big step forward in his third full major league season, but his up-and-down first eight starts seem to indicate he has plenty of work left to do.
After pitching six scoreless innings in Miami on May 13, the left-hander surrendered a career high-tying eight runs in three innings in Friday’s 14-5 loss at Toronto. Nineteen of the 23 earned runs Niese has given up this season have come in the first three frames.
“A guy with his kind of stuff, to have as many problems as he has shown lately in the early innings, I don’t know why,” manager Terry Collins told the Mets’ official website. “There’s way too much plate. They’re just squaring him up way too easily.”
While the Blue Jays have one of the majors’ most powerful and prolific offenses, the Pirates (20-23) have the distinction of baseball’s weakest lineup all to themselves.
Last in on-base percentage (.268), runs (125), walks (90) and strikeouts (368), Pittsburgh reverted to its usual struggles Tuesday after rallying from four runs down to win Monday’s opener 5-4. The Pirates struck out 11 times against New York starter R.A. Dickey, didn’t draw a walk for the ninth time and were held to two runs or fewer on the 20th occasion in a 3-2 loss.
“Dickey was pretty tough,” Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones told the team’s official website. “When you don’t see a knuckleball pitcher a lot and do see one who’s able to throw strikes, it’s tough.”
Niese is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts against Pittsburgh, but the Pirates might be happy to see a lefty on the mound. They’re 7-1 and have averaged 4.9 runs while hitting .267 in the last eight games a left-hander has started against them. They’re 6-0 against lefties at PNC this season.
Niese will want to be particularly careful with Andrew McCutchen, who’s 12 for 18 with three homers and two doubles against lefties in May. Pittsburgh’s center fielder has two doubles in three at-bats versus Niese.
The Pirates counter with Charlie Morton (2-4, 4.35), who wasn’t particularly sharp Friday in Detroit - not that even his best outing would have made much of a difference. The right-hander gave up four runs and nine hits over six innings as Pittsburgh was one-hit by Justin Verlander in a 6-0 loss.
Morton surrendered two in the first inning, and has given up runs in the first in all three losses this month.
He allowed one in the first and seven overall through four innings when the Mets visited PNC on June 10, his only home start against New York.
Mets third baseman David Wright went 0 for 4 and struck out three times Tuesday to end his 14-game streak of reaching base. He still leads the majors in batting average (.403) and OBP (.503) and hasn’t gone back-to-back games without a hit since a three-game stretch April 21-23.