Jonathon Niese struggles as Mets routed by Pittsburgh Pirates on Banner Day
For the Mets, there is Matt Harvey, and there is everybody else. And on what should have been a festive occasion Saturday, the Pirates showcased the massive drop-off that takes place when anybody but Harvey takes the mound.
The Mets absorbed an 11-2 loss to the Pirates, who spoiled Banner Day by battering left- hander Jonathon Niese for eight runs, tying the highest total of his career. He lasted just 41/3 innings, becoming the latest member of the rotation to dump more work off on a fatigued corps of relievers.
"It is a pretty big problem because our bullpen's shot," manager Terry Collins said.
Niese insisted he felt no ill effects from a knot that caused stiffness in his back. However, he said pitching through it earlier this season led to bad habits that have wrecked his mechanics. All but one of the eight hits he allowed was smoked.
"I'm not really deceiving anybody right now," Niese said. "No pitcher wants to go through it but it's reality right now. I've got to change it."
Meanwhile, the sputtering Mets offense offered little resistance against Francisco Liriano, who allowed one run while scattering six hits in 51/3 innings. By the time he left his first start of the season, the outcome was no longer in doubt and the only drama remaining involved settling a score from the previous night.
Pirates reliever Bryan Morris drilled pinch hitter Jordany Valdespin with a 94-mph pitch in the seventh inning, which the Mets took as retaliation for the utilityman's showboating following a meaningless homer late in the Friday's blowout loss.
Of course, the Pirates might not have had the chance for retribution had Niese kept the game competitive.
The Mets hoped Niese would emerge as a worthy arm to go with Harvey atop the rotation, especially when Johan Santana was lost to shoulder surgery. It was Niese who started on Opening Day. But he has allowed 15 runs in his last two outings.
"I'm not worried about Jon," said Collins, who believes that Niese can still regain his form by ironing out his mechanics.
Nevertheless, Collins was forced to make concessions due to Niese's struggles. Already playing a man short because Jeurys Familia is battling biceps tendinitis, Collins was forced to use reliever Scott Atchison, even though he planned to give him the day off.
"It's a tough time to go through this," said Niese, who only underscored the growing performance gap between Harvey and his teammates.
Harvey is 4-0 with a 1.28 ERA. He has averaged seven innings per start while allowing opponents to hit just .133. In his seven starts, the Mets are 6-1.
By contrast, the rest of the team's starters are 8-14 with a 5.59 ERA and an average of just five innings per appearance. Opponents are hitting .304 against the team's other starters and Saturday's loss dropped the Mets' record to just 8-18 in games not started by Harvey.
"We're good [today]," Collins said of Harvey, who starts Sunday's series finale. "I know Matt will give us innings. That will help."
Past that, the Mets have precious few assurances.