By Rich Coutinho
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When people talk about the 2013 Mets rotation they generally think about the promise of Matt Harvey or the expectations of RA Dickey continuing his magic carpet ride next year. They even talk about the health of Johan Santana and the return of Dillon Gee. But they sometimes forget Jonathan Niese is as important a piece to the Met future as anyone I have mentioned. And he has begun to evolve as a top-notch starting pitcher.

Niese’s 2012 report card includes a 3.49 ERA complete with 129 K”s and only 137 hits allowed in 152 innings pitched. He is also doing the one thing he has failed to do in previous seasons–finish strong and have the stamina after the All-Star break to take it to the finish line. In many ways, Niese is a complicated pitcher. He has in his arsenal a cut fastball and an extremely effective overhand “12 to 6” curveball but has shown resistance to using other pitches like a chang-up for instance.

Terry Collins has asked him to use all of his pitches and that has proven to be sound advice for the southpaw. Last night in DC, Niese matched zeros with Edwin Jackson and aside from his stuff, his body language showed poise, maturity, and confidence. He understood that one mistake could put this game in the loss column and he embraced that opportunity with enthusiasm and resilience. And it wasn’t always that way with Niese.

As a younger pitcher, he sometimes let self-doubt creep in but Niese is now an experienced pitcher who has a long-term contract and that has allowed him to relax and just pitch. Guys like Wheeler and Harvey will be big factors in deciding where the Mets go in the future but Niese is just as important because he is a southpaw in a left-handed laden division and this trio of pitchers will be connected at the hip for years to come.

The last 6 weeks of the season are very important for Jonathan Niese as he must continue his excellence to the finish line. It won’t help the Mets this season in terms of a playoff spot but come 2013, relying on Jonathan Niese will allow the Mets to put money into other areas of the team like the bullpen and the outfield. My sense is that Niese could turn out to be the pitcher that flies under the radar in this rotation but will also be the one you want on the hill when the team desperately needs a win.

What do you expect from the Mets starting rotation in 2013? Let us know in the comments section below.

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