Niese tosses zeroes into seventh again

Jon Niese has now taken a scoreless effort into the seventh inning of both outings since signing the contract that guarantees him a minimum of $25.5 million over five seasons.

The latter effort came Saturday, when he limited the Philadelphia Phillies to no runs in 6 2/3 innings in a 5-0 victory.

Jonathon Niese

Jonathon Niese

#49 SP
New York Mets

2012 STATS

  • GM2
  • W2

  • L0

  • BB5

  • K12

  • ERA2.13

Niese said the outing actually was better than the no-hit bid he took into the seventh against the Atlanta Braves last weekend before Freddie Freeman broke it up.

“I felt the ball was coming out of my hand a lot better than the first game,” Niese said.

Yes, the Phillies’ offense has mostly been anemic this season minus injured Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. They mustered only six hits and did not send more than four batters to the plate in any inning Saturday. Overall, the Phillies have scored 20 runs in 2012 -- better than only the Pittsburgh Pirates among all 30 major league teams.

Yet Niese was very good, too, as the Mets produced only their second shutout at Citizens Bank Park since it opened in 2004.

“Both outings, he’s pitched absolutely great,” Terry Collins said. “He kept the ball down. He’s keeping the ball on the corners. He’s changing speeds, using his curveball. I actually thought his changeup today was very good. He didn’t throw a lot of them, but he threw enough to certainly give them a look.

“I like our pitching staff. We don’t have necessarily the big names, but I like our pitching staff. They throw the ball over. They don’t beat themselves. We’ve gotten good outings from every one of them so far.”

• So how will Collins settle the center-field platoon Sunday with the Mets facing southpaw Cole Hamels?

The manager said he plans to use both lefty-hitting Kirk Nieuwenhuis and righty-hitting Scott Hairston. Hairston should man right field. Lucas Duda, who snapped an 0-for-15 drought with a homer and double Saturday, should get his first day off.

Collins raved after Saturday’s win about Nieuwenhuis racing toward the wall in right-center to track down Brian Schneider’s second-inning shot. Collins does not want the rookie to sit twice in the series. And Collins also wants Hairston in Sunday’s lineup, since he is a .400 hitter with three homers in 21 career plate appearances against Hamels.

“Full bore, headed for the wall. I wish I could tell you how many times I saw it two years ago,” Collins said about Nieuwenhuis’ catch, while referring to the time the manager served as minor league coordinator. “That’s just how he plays. He gets off the ball good and he’s fearless. That’s the thing he does. That fence coming up next to him? He’s not worried about that.”

Bobby Parnell

Bobby Parnell

#39 RP
New York Mets

2012 STATS

  • GM4
  • W0

  • L0

  • BB1

  • K6

  • ERA1.80

Bobby Parnell tossed 12 1/3 scoreless Grapefruit League innings. He has backed that up with a solid regular season so far as well.

Parnell followed Niese by recording four outs. It marked the second straight game he had worked the eighth inning in Philadelphia. Parnell has now tossed five scoreless innings over four regular-season relief appearances.

“I’m pitching well, throwing it in the strike zone and making my pitches when I need to,” Parnell said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence right now.”

“He’s riding high,” Collins said. “He’s pitching as good as he can pitch. You talk about a guy locating? His balls are down. He was 97, 98 mph today. There’s a distinct possibility he learned a lot from the experience he had last summer of closing. He’s very calm. He’s very relaxed. He comes in the game and one of the biggest things I’ve seen, even though he got behind the leadoff hitter today, for the most part he’s stayed ahead in the counts. That’s a big difference.”

• The Mets’ first steal of the season also was Mike Baxter’s first career major league steal. And it was the first steal by the Mets with Tom Goodwin as a first base coach. Goodwin actually came over to Baxter and shook his hand in the clubhouse afterward for getting the first base coach off the schneid.

“We’re missing three guys that created runs,” Collins said about the departures of Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Angel Pagan. “That was part of their games. And our guys, we’re a little different than that. We’re going to use the on-base percentage and get on base and hopefully get those big guys in the middle of that lineup swinging the bat the way they’re capable of and we’ll score our share of runs.”

• The Mets, at 6-2, are now three games better than the Phillies in the standings for the second time this season. Before this year, the Mets’ last three-game lead over Philadelphia was July 7, 2010, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Mets were 47-38. The Phillies were 43-30.

The Mets now are off to their best start since opening 7-1 in 2006.