Jon Niese, the six-man rotation, and fulfilling his potential

In last night’s 7-3 win over the Brewers, Jon Niese allowed two runs and six hits with three walks and five strikeouts in six innings, improving to 11-9 with a 3.46 ERA in 177 innings over 28 starts this season.

“They battled me really good today. They’ve got a great lineup. I do feel good. Obviously, I’ve been getting a lot more rest in between starts now. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It’s not hindering me much right now. Overall, I just feel good. … I feel a lot better than I have [at this stage of the season] in the past.”

Niese’s streak of walking two batters or less ended at 17 consecutive starts last night, but he has now made 18 consecutive starts in which he’s pitched into the sixth inning or later.

“He’s kept himself in great shape this year. … and we’ve been able to keep him healthy. [Sometimes] you can see some rust because of the six-man rotation, but that extra day has kept him strong.”

Michael Baron, Contributor

Niese clearly wasn’t at his best last night. The sharpness of his pitches weren’t there early, and he found himself in some trouble in each of the first three innings. But he was able to limit the damage in those innings got some awesome defense behind him thanks mostly to his ability to throw strikes with all of his pitches and his cutter in particular. He found a comfort zone after the third inning and started getting some quick outs – that helped him manage his pitch count and keep him in the game for another quality start.

I’ve talked a lot about how important this season was for Niese and his ability to grow. It was pretty clear that a year ago when Sandy Alderson mentioned there were starting pitchers in the rotation who needed to step up and mature this season, among those he was referring to (without naming names) was Niese. He has undoubtedly answered the call this season and taken major strides in his ability to fulfill his talent potential, become more efficient, and manage his game when he is not at his best. While he has harnessed better command of the strike zone, the biggest improvement I’ve seen with Niese has been his tempo, which in turn improves the quality of the defense behind him. That has helped Niese (and the rest of the team) to limit the crooked innings, get him deeper into the game, and keep from using the bullpen for more than three innings during his starts.