Jonathon Niese tried to soften the backhanded comments he made last winter, when he ripped the Mets’ defense on his way out of town. Shortly after his trade to Pittsburgh for Neil Walker, he insisted that his intent was to express excitement about playing with the Pirates’ defense.
“It’s unfortunate the way it got turned around but [it’s] certainly not what I meant by it,” the lefty said before Tuesday night’s game, in which he pitched the final two innings for the Mets and allowed one run on two hits. “I’ve talked to a lot of the guys in the clubhouse and they respect me and I respect them and always loved them from the first time I played for them.”
But after enduring the worst season of his career, it seems Niese has reconsidered his stance on the Pirates’ defense, the same one he had seemed so eager to praise. The Pirates frequently employ defensive shifts, of which Niese is not a fan.
“Sometimes, reinventing the game isn’t the best idea,” Niese told Newsday. “Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t.”
Not that Niese pinned all of his poor results on defense. By the time he left the Pirates, Niese had been demoted to the bullpen, with a 4.91 ERA in 23 appearances (18 starts).
Of course, Niese may be onto something. When the Pirates shifted behind Niese, opponents had a .364 batting average on balls in play. That number fell to .286 without the shift, an indication that the defensive alignments hurt much more than they helped.
According to sources, the potential for some bounce-back by Niese with less use of shifting factored into the Mets’ decision to bring the 29-year-old back into the fold.