LOS ANGELES -- The lone left-hander in the New York Mets’ bullpen in the division series is not even a reliever.
With Steven Matz seemingly on track to make the roster as the Game 4 starter, Sean Gilmartin is expected to be left off. And Dario Alvarez already has been sent home for the winter. So Jonathon Niese should be the only southpaw in the bullpen against a Los Angeles Dodgers team with a significant number of left-handed batters.
Anticipating that he would be left out of the postseason rotation, Niese asked to get relief work as the regular season closed. He made four relief appearances during the final week of the season. Although opponents had a .429 batting average against him (6-for-14) in that role, Niese was encouraged because he “surprisingly” was able to warm up quickly.
“That was the only concern I had going from starting to the bullpen,” Niese said. “As a starter you have all the time in the world to get ready. I had a routine. But being in the bullpen at the end of the year let me get settled in and get a routine to where I felt good getting up real quick.”
Niese is by no means a lefty specialist. This season, lefty batters hit .305 and righty batters hit .273 against him.
Manager Terry Collins suggested during the final week that Niese threw too many strikes when used in relief. Niese somewhat agreed.
“I’m a guy that I like to pound the zone a little bit,” Niese said. “I’m going to have to start using a weapon that I can throw out of the zone to get guys to chase. But the way I pitch, I like to get early outs -- as soon as possible. If that means throwing pitches in the zone, then I’ll throw pitches in the zone. But there’s going to be occasions where I’m going to have to strike a guy out where I’m going to have to make him chase.”
Niese’s success against certain Dodgers lefty batters is notable. Adrian Gonzalez is 0-for-9 in his career against Niese. Chase Utley is 3-for-32. Just keep Niese away from righty-hitting ex-Met Justin Turner (5-for-7, 2 HRs).
“I’m going to look at some more video and see how I’m going to attack them,” Niese said. “The way I’ve attacked them in the past has worked.”
How might Collins use Niese?
“I wouldn’t say in the sixth inning, just because a lefty is up, that they’re going to get me up,” Niese said. “If Jake [deGrom]’s cruising through the game, he’s going to let him face him. If there’s a certain situation where he feels he needs me, it’ll probably be later, probably the seventh or eighth inning.”
Said Collins: “In a perfect world you always want your reliever to start a clean inning. I don’t care who it is. I think the other day he showed a little bit better stuff, how to get lefties out. We’ll just have to wait to see what the situation is and who the best guy is to bring in.”