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Suns' Niese overcomes hill, 'Claws

April 12, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

Jonathan Niese realizes there are going to be some bumps in the road during his pitching career.

But the Hagerstown Suns starter didn't think the bump in the middle of Municipal Stadium would be a contributing factor.

Niese had an adventurous outing in his second start for the Suns, but gutted out five quality innings Tuesday to help Hagerstown to a 3-2 victory over the Lakewood BlueClaws.

"I don't want to make excuses, but it was the first time I have thrown off this mound," Niese said. "It shouldn't have taken three innings to get used to it, but it did."

The 19-year-old left-hander was forced to gauge the lay of the land while being presented with a number of different scenarios in his home debut. Niese's only major glitch came when he allowed two unearned runs in the third, but the Suns erased the problem by answering with three in the bottom of the inning and made the one rally stand up for their second victory.

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"He had to throw a lot of pitches in a short time," Suns manager Frank Cacciatore said. "That wears a pitcher out faster than throwing a lot of innings because they usually get time to rest between innings. He did a good job getting through it to get five innings."

For Niese, it all started with the first two Lakewood batters fouling off a number of offerings to put an early drain on his pitch-count limit. Next, came the king-of-the-hill battle with the mound that threw off his routine and brought on a visit from pitching coach Shawn Barton.

"I needed to slow down. I was rushing too much in the beginning," said the New York Mets' seventh pick in the 2005 draft. "(Barton) came out and told me to slow down and relax. It's always tough when you throw 31 pitches in the first inning."

Part three of the saga came in the third when Lakewood (0-6) scratched out a pair of unearned runs to take a 2-0 lead.

Greg Golson led off with a single and took second on Julian Williams' grounder to first before scoring on second baseman Hector Pellot's error on Aaron Cheesman's grounder. Cheesman scored one out later on Ryan Frith's single.

"Things happened," Niese said. "Some unfortunate events happened too fast. The runs were unfortunate. They fouled off a bunch of pitches and I made myself throw a lot of pitches. But I battled. ... I threw a lot of pitches but only gave up one walk."

Niese (1-0) came out after the Suns' rally and retired the last six BlueClaws he faced to end his creditable performance and turn over the lead to the Suns' bullpen.

"(Things got better when) I had the lead," Niese said. "It was the big thing. When I get the lead, I feel more comfortable. I just love to pitch with the lead."

Hagerstown gave Niese his advantage in the third off Lakewood starter Scott Mitchinson by grouping four of the five hits it had in the game.

Jonel Pacheco led off with a single and scored on Rafael Arroyo's double to the left-field wall. Arroyo advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on Matt Anderson's grounder to first to tie the game. Fernando Martinez and Jose Castro hit back-to-back doubles to produce the game-winning run.

"That is the way this club has been going ... they are always in it," Cacciatore said. "It is something they have shown in spring training and in the first four games in Greensboro. We went out and we got the momentum back."

Niese allowed the two unearned runs on three hits while striking out five.

Brandon Nall and Joe Serfass came on to nail down the victory and bolster the confidence of the Suns' bullpen, which has been victimized through the first week. Each faced seven batters through their two-inning stints with Serfass finishing the game for his first save.

"It was a big confidence builder for the pitching staff," Cacciatore said. "Nall came in and threw two great innings after having a tough outing his first time up and Serfass did a great job. It was just a big confidence builder for the bullpen."

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