Niese off to outstanding start

New York Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese throws

New York Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese throws against the Detroit Tigers in the second inning of a spring training baseball game in Lakeland, Fla. (March 12, 2012) (Credit: AP)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The rotation's other lefthander, Jonathon Niese, doesn't attract the sort of scrutiny two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana does. In fact, aside from his Carlos Beltran-sponsored nose job, Niese has gone mostly unnoticed in spring training, except when it comes to performance.

Niese pitched 51/3 scoreless innings Saturday in the Mets' 3-2 loss to the Braves even though the leadoff hitter reached base in each of those innings. It certainly helped that he didn't surrender a walk and whiffed three during the 72-pitch outing.

"That's pretty amazing," Terry Collins said. "You'll find that very seldom. It was an outstanding job."

Niese, with a 2.61 ERA in three Grapefruit League starts, has walked only one and struck out nine in 101/3 innings. He credits his decent opening stretch to a revamped changeup. Niese is using a new grip, and by giving hitters something different to look at, it's helped him pound the strike zone.

"I feel really balanced this year," Niese said. "The biggest thing for a pitcher is having confidence, and I think that right now, I trust my stuff."

He's also earning the trust of his manager, who believes this has the makings of a breakthrough season for Niese.

"I like what he's trying to do," Collins said. "I think it's time for Jon Niese to step into what everybody thinks he's going to do, and that's be a big winner in the big leagues. He's got the stuff. He certainly has as good a stuff as there is in this league."

Extra basesRuben Tejada missed his fifth straight games with a groin strain. Collins said his ailing shortstop won't play until Tuesday, affording him Monday's built-in off day for extra rest . . . Frank Francisco pitched a scoreless inning for the first time in five appearances, shaving his ERA to 7.20. His new bullpen pals -- Jon Rauch (9.53) and Ramon Ramirez (11.25) -- still are rounding into shape. "Those guys have all done it," Collins said. "That's why we went and got them. So it's all about the process of getting out and getting the work done." . . . Daniel Murphy had two of the Mets' six hits and drove in two runs against the Braves.

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