CINCINNATI - Nothing will wipe away the stain of Jonathon Niese's cursed first half. There is no way to strike from the record the subpar performances that came with his decision to pitch through a balky left shoulder. He cannot undo the past.
But the Mets lefthander has found the way to reshape what at times appeared to be a lost season. In what might be his final start of the year, Niese lifted the Mets to a 4-2 victory against the playoff-bound Reds Tuesday night, continuing what has been an encouraging run to wrap up the season.
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Daniel Murphy's three-run homer in the second gave the Mets the lead. And Niese made it stand up against a dangerous Reds lineup, allowing two runs and eight hits in seven innings. He struck out six and walked just one.
"Ever since he's come back, he's thrown the ball as good as I've ever seen Jon Niese throw it in the time that I've been here," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "And he's pitched some great baseball games. But his command, his pace, his velocity is up."
At one point, Niese's future appeared murky, a disconcerting development for a player in the second season of a five-year, $25.5-million deal. He pitched through cold weather and discomfort in his shoulder. As a result, he took the mound without the benefit of command. He paid a heavy price for his decision.
When Niese landed on the disabled list on June 22 with a partially torn rotator cuff, he was 3-6 with a 4.32 ERA. His 49 strikeouts came with 33 walks, an unsightly ratio for a pitcher who found success by honing his command.
But it was during Niese's nearly two-month stay on the disabled list that his fortunes began to turn. Initially diagnosed as partial rotator cuff tear, doctors later determined that Niese's shoulder issues were the result of wear and tear. Instead of undergoing surgery, the Mets lefthander strengthened his shoulder during rehab.
He has since made the most of his chance to restore his standing within the organization. In 10 starts since coming off the DL, Niese is 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA. He has struck out 54 batters and walked just 13. His cutter and curveball have once again become potent weapons.
"When my shoulder's healthy, for the most part, I think I can throw the ball where I want to and minimize the mistakes," Niese said. "Hopefully, I can keep that up."
The Mets will weigh several factors before deciding whether to shut down Niese, which would be a precautionary move according to Collins, similar to the team's decision to end Zack Wheeler's season last week.
Niese said he wants to pitch but acknowledged that the final call is not his. But if his season is indeed finished, he can take heart in ending it with a flourish. Niese's latest effort evened his season mark to 8-8 and lowered his ERA to 3.74 -- totals that appeared out of reach only a few months ago.
Said Collins: "To have Jon be where he's at today is a big step for us."
Notes & quotes: In his first chance, reliever Vic Black recorded his first big-league save. Collins said he is worried about closer Bobby Parnell coming off neck surgery at 100 percent next spring. Black could enter the season as a possible alternative . . . Jordany Valdespin officially completed his 50-game suspension for violating baseball's ban on performance-enhancing drugs.