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Davidoff: Mets take unnecessary risk with Niese

New York Mets' Jon Niese (49) pitches to

New York Mets' Jon Niese (49) pitches to the Detroit Tigers in the first inning. (June 22, 2010) Credit: John Dunn

It's fun to speculate how Carlos Beltran will mix back in with the Mets when (if?) he returns after the All-Star break. How much Angel Pagan will still play, and what will happen as Jeff Francoeur veers from Good Frenchy to Bad Frenchy and back.

But if we want to talk about managerial competence, and getting the most out of your players while seeing the bigger picture, then we need not look ahead. We can simply turn to what happened to Jon Niese last night at Citi Field.

The Mets clobbered Justin Verlander and the Tigers, 14-6, and that's obviously a good development for the Flushing faithful. Pagan, the topic of much pregame discussion in the wake of Beltran's imminent return to official game action, put up a monster night, hitting two singles, a double and a triple and driving in four runs.

Today, however? If you're a Mets fan, just hope that Niese wakes up and comes to the ballpark feeling fine.

Niese ended the top of the third, having not yet allowed a hit, at 8:04. A rain delay began at 8:12 and concluded at 9:10, and by the time the Mets concluded their impressive, eight-run third, it was 9:34.

So when Niese threw his first pitch of the fourth inning, the clock read 9:36. That's 92 minutes in between pitches - a long time for a veteran pitcher, an eternity for a prized youngster who already has spent time on the disabled list this year with a right hamstring injury. And remember, the field was wet, prime for slipping.

Consider that Tigers manager Jim Leyland, a mentor to Mets manager Jerry Manuel, didn't bring back Verlander - a fifth-year major-leaguer - after just the 58-minute delay. Granted, the Mets lit up Verlander before the break, so Leyland had less incentive to call upon his righthander.

Nevertheless, the Mets failed to see the bigger picture. Just as bad, once it became clear that Niese had nothing out on the mound, the team still let him hang around for 12/3 innings, finally pulling him one out short of qualification for a victory. He allowed six runs and seven hits, walking three, as he struggled to record five outs.

Manuel's explanation left much to be desired. Said the Mets' manager: "The factor was the [46] pitches that he had. When you have less than 50, and he's pitching the way he was pitching, you've got to give him the opportunity to go back there.

"Plus, with no hits going through the lineup, you've got to give him the opportunity to go back and see if he can hold on and win that game."

When I followed up by asking if there were a time cutoff - the length of a delay that would mandate a pitching change, regardless of how many pitches had been thrown prior to the play stoppage - Manuel reiterated: "We thought 50 pitches and one hour [delay] would be kind of the cutoff where you wouldn't send a guy back. [Forty-six] pitches, pitching the way he did . . . the plan was to try and get him through and keep the pitch total down for the night. Keep the pitch total around 90."

Niese, who threw 84 pitches, said: "I wanted to go back out there. I couldn't make the adjustments after the delay."

The more humid and soggy conditions, the lefty explained, should have compelled him to use different pitches.

If Niese makes his next start without a problem, then all is well. But that won't have justified the Mets' risky call on Niese, at a time when they should be prioritizing pitchers' health over pitchers' wins.

"Prevention and recovery," these 2010 Mets' catch phrase, this was not.

New York Sports