Niese looks good, but takes the loss

NEW YORK -- If there is such a thing as a feel-good loss, that applies to Jonathon Niese's outing on Sunday.

Niese was on the hook for the New York Mets' 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Reds. But he pitched well and pain-free, which could be considered a victory in itself.

In 5 2/3 innings, Niese gave up two runs on six hits -- all singles -- with four strikeouts and one walk.

"I felt good," Niese said. "It felt like the ball was coming out of my hand pretty well. Obviously didn’t have any pain. Unfortunately that last inning I thought I executed some pretty good pitches -- they're just a really good hitting ballclub. They just hit it where our guys weren’t."

Niese had shut down the Reds for five frames, allowing just a pair of singles. But he gave up three singles in a row to start the top of the sixth. Then Joey Votto and Ryan Ludwick each drove a run home with a sacrifice fly and another single, respectively.

Manager Terry Collins took the ball from Niese with runners on second and third and two outs -- not because Niese was tired (he wasn't), but because he had reached his allotted pitch count for the day, 90.

"I thought he made some pretty good pitches -- the ball that Ludwick hit, he wanted to go upstairs on him and [Ludwick] just got the barrel on it," Collins said. "I thought Jon pitched an outstanding game. I was very, very impressed."

Niese was supposed to be the Mets' starter on Opening Day. Instead he opened the season on the disabled list after an abbreviated spring that included two trips to New York for MRIs on his left shoulder and elbow, plus a cortisone shot in the elbow to alleviate inflammation.

But he looked like the Niese of old on Sunday, with a fastball in the low 90s and an effective curveball.

"Once those two are working, he’s got a repertoire that’s gonna get a lot of people out," Collins said. "And today he got people out with it, we just didn’t give him any runs to work with."

That has been an early theme this season. Coming into Sunday's game, the Mets were tied for the major-league lead in quality starts with four in their first five games, yet were only 2-3.

Niese's outing was one out short of being the Mets' fifth quality start. But it was plenty good, considering the uncertainty about his health going in.

Now they just have to hope for more of the same.

"You really can’t duplicate pitching on a big-league mound in spring training," Niese said. "It’s a great feeling. It feels good to be back out there."