Virtually no one scores off Eric Niesen anymore. Entering Wednesday's game against the Lancaster Barnstormers, the 28-year-old left-handed reliever had allowed only one earned run in 16 appearances, pitching to a 0.60 ERA in 15 innings.
Niesen, a third-round pick by the Mets in 2007, spent five seasons in the Amazin's minor league system, including nine games with the Brooklyn Cyclones as a rookie. He was invited to big league camp with the Mets in 2010, but failed to make the final roster, instead pitching in AA-Binghamton.
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After spending a year and a half with the Ducks, Niesen was signed by the Red Sox last July. He pitched in 14 games for AA-Portland and AAA-Pawtucket and re-signed with the Ducks this January.
You didn't allow an earned run in your first 15 appearances. When did you become conscious of the fact that no one had crossed the plate while you were on the hill?
It doesn't really hit you at once. When you start going out there and start putting together some good innings, you focus on getting the job done for your team. Over time, as you start accomplishing those goals and keep the lead for your team, that's when you really start to notice . . . Being a reliever, you go out there so many days in a row that you don't really have time to think about it. That's a good thing, because anything can end at any time. You're going to go out there the next day and things can change. You don't really dwell on it too much, but you are aware of it.
Your ERA was under one entering Wednesday, is that something that you take pride in?
Every pitcher does. But ERA's are tough sometimes. You have to credit your team and the guys coming in behind you. There's a lot that goes into it. It's not just "your stat." I just try to focus on throwing strikes and being aggressive. Strikes, walks, and opponent's batting average is a little clearer than ERA. It's something people focus on, but it's a team effort.
Twenty-seven strikeouts and only eight walks this year. Has control always been a big strength of yours?
I've always been a "strike out guy," but not quite to this caliber. This year, I've focused on getting ahead in the count and getting 'downhill' on the ball. That's really helped me. I focused this offseason on getting on top of the ball better and I've had better command (as a result). For a lot of my career, I got on the side of the ball, creating a lot more movement, which can be good because I had guys chase balls. I still have that movement, but it's a bit more controlled. Being able to hit that glove target more often has been the difference. Baseball is a funny thing, sometimes you work on something so long and it doesn't seem to click. Then, all of a sudden, you go out there and a light bulb goes off.
What were some of your best experiences in big league camp with the Mets?
I got to face the Braves and guys like Chipper Jones, Martin Prado and Jason Heyward. I went to Disney and played in front of the packed stadium they have at the Wide World of Sports. You gain a lot of knowledge just from facing those types of guys and getting those opportunities. Hopefully, one day, I'll get back to big league camp and be able to do it again.