PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — Jonathon Niese is happy with his new changeup.
Niese allowed six hits — all singles — in 5 1-3 scoreless innings Saturday as the Mets lost to an Atlanta Braves’ split squad 3-2.
“I felt good,” Niese said. “I want to go out there and pound the zone and throw strikes with all my pitches. I got to use some changeups in situations that were 1-2. Some worked, some didn’t. All-around it felt good.”
Niese struck out three, walked none and hit a batter — Braves starter Kris Medlen. He threw 49 of 72 pitches for strikes and induced two double plays, both times with sinkers.
“It’s pretty amazing — six innings, all six leadoff hitters got on and he pitched a six-inning shutout,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “You’ll find that very seldom. It was an outstanding job. He mixed up all his pitches and really pitched good.”
Niese, 11-11 with a 4.40 ERA last season, used his changeup in different counts, including the first pitch of at-bats. He said at times he threw the changeup away to let hitters know he had it, then came back with a four-seam fastball inside.
“The biggest thing with pitching is being confident with your pitches, trusting your pitches and right now I really trust my stuff,” Niese said. “That helps me know that I can just pound the zone.”
In three spring training starts, Niese has a 2.61 ERA in 10 1-3 innings with nine strikeouts, nine hits and just one walk.
“I think it’s time for Jon Niese to step into what everybody thinks he’s going to do and that’s be a big winner in the big leagues because he’s got the stuff,” Collins said. “He’s certainly has as good stuff as there is in this league.”
While Niese has a spot in the Mets’ rotation, Medlen is expected to work out of the bullpen for the Braves. After missing almost all of last season recovering from elbow-ligament replacement surgery, the 26-year old gave up one hit in four shutout innings, struck out four and walked one.
Medlen had thrown just two innings in each of his first two outings.
“I just wanted to keep the pitch count down, throw strikes and get ahead of guys,” Medlen said. “I have no hesitation at all, no restrictions. My confidence is pretty high right now, but I’m still pitching exactly the way I used to. I’m attacking hitters and being aggressive and letting my fielders work.”
Daniel Murphy had two hits, including a two-run single in the sixth against Sean Gilmartin. David Ross hit a go-ahead, two-run double in a three-run eighth inning off Ramon Ramirez that also included Matt Diaz’s RBI single.
Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Ross each had two hits for the Braves. Heyward also stole a base.
NOTES: The Mets celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by wearing green jersey tops and green hats with orange lettering and numbers. The Braves also wore green hats and the bases were outlined in green. … Braves SS Andrelton Simmons made a nice play to finish a double play in the second inning. Justin Turner made a hard slide at second base, which appeared to catch Simmons’ foot. Simmons lost his balance and spun around, but still was able to get the ball to 1B Freddie Freeman. … Mets top prospect Zack Wheeler threw 2 2-3 innings in a minor league game against St. Louis. Wheeler, whose fastball was clocked as high as 97 mph, walked three, hit a batter and struck out one.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.)