The kid stays in the picture

And in the pasture, methinks — a.k.a. center field.

In Thursday’s matinee, rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis started the Mets’ attack with a leadoff triple in the home 1st and scored the game’s first run. It might have remained their only run, but Miami closer Heath Bell had an unprecedented loss of control in the 9th, walking four batters to force in the tying run. And then with 2 out, Nieuwenhuis came up and banged a 1-0 meatball off the wall in RF to win the game with his third hit 0f the day.

  • Bell had never walked more than 3 in a game, and he did that just twice in 441 career games.
  • The 46 pitches were 8 more than Bell had ever used in a stint of 1 inning or less. It’s also 8 more than any other reliever has thrown this year in 1 IP or less.
  • Mets PA of the year so far goes to Justin Turner, who earned the game-tying walk by fouling off seven two-strike pitches in a 13-pitch at-bat, including four straight with a full count.
  • This was the second time in a 3-game series that the Marlins let in a late tying run on four walks. Turner and Josh Thole drew walks in both “rallies.”
  • As if winning the game wasn’t enough, the hit by Nieuwenhuis broke the Mets’ season-long 0-for-17 schneid with the bases full.
  • I don’t understand the Mets fans who have booed Jose Reyes in his first return as a Marlin. But this might have been their favorite play today.
  • The tally for Jose’s first road trip to Flushing: a single in 12 trips, no Runs/RBI/SB, 1 GIDP.

Nieuwenhuis was not in the Mets’ plans for the first half. Although he hit .298/.403/.505 at AAA last year, injuries limited him to 53 games. He was called up when CF Andres Torres aggravated a calf injury on Opening Day, and has played in every game since. And he’s had a knack for being involved in key plays, for good and for ill.

He had two hits in his debut, and in his second start hit a tying 2-run HR. Last Friday, he answered a blast by ex-Mets CF Angel Pagan by drilling one to the opposite field off Barry Zito, his first off a lefty, then made a terrific catch that ended in a warning-track face plant.

Last Saturday, he almost cost the Mets a win by overrunning a wind-blown popup behind 2B that let in the tying runs with 2 out in the 9th. In the bottom half, it was his grounder that ended in Buster Posey’s wild throw trying to complete a DP, letting in the winning run.

In the Miami series opener Tuesday, Nieuwenhuis gave the Mets early momentum by taking away extra-bases from Jose Reyes leading off the game. Although he struck out three times against Josh Johnson in that game, he also started the decisive rally in the 8th with a hit and eventually scored the winning run. On Wednesday, he reached on a HBP in front of David Wright’s turnaround HR.

The California-born Nieuwenhuis began Thursday with the third-best season WPA among Mets hitters (.513), a number that will rise with today’s heroics. His updated slash line reads .333/.403/.517 in 55 PAs, and his .920 OPS ranks 3rd among first- and second-year players with 30+ PAs.

The Mets have only had one home-grown center fielder who was really good for a period of years — another SoCal boy, Lenny Dykstra* — and he was gone before he hit his prime. And they haven’t had a Rookie of the Year since Dwight Gooden in ’84. It’s too soon to know if Kirk Nieuwenhuis is the next big thing; let’s see how he deals with his first slump. But the time is right, the door is open, and the Big Apple is right there for the grabbing.

* Hey, I love Mookie, but his 6-year prime averaged 2.7 WAR. Maz had 3 good years, but he was done as a regular by age 26.

14 thoughts on “The kid stays in the picture

  1. 1
    bstar says:

    That’s weird, John, I thought Mazeroski played his whole career with the Pirates. Who knew? 🙂

    • 5
      John Autin says:

      Yeah, and he never did much for us in CF, either!

      We’re OK with the fork he stuck in the Yankees, though. 🙂

  2. 2
    vivaeljason says:

    I really love what I’ve seen out of Nieuwenheis so far. Hopefully he is able to maintain this and keep the starting job once Torres comes back.

  3. 3
    Doug says:

    “Bell had never walked more than 3 in a game, and he did that just twice in 441 career games.”

    And one of those times was just 2 weeks ago against Houston when Bell waslked the bases loaded on 12 pitches. That Houston game was sandwiched by two outings where he retired 3 batters total while allowing 6 runs and 8 hits.

    Something’s not right with Heath.

  4. 6
    birtelcom says:

    Kirk is now #2 on the Mets in WPA, behind only Josh Thole (he of the 3rd best OBP in the NL). The WPA leader among Met pitchers is, sadly, Mike Pelfrey, who may now sit there at the top all season without pitching again.

    • 7
      John Autin says:

      I truly hate to say this, because we’ll have trouble filling Pelf’s shoes this year — but his season-ending injury likely insures a wise Mets decision on his free agency. No team in the Mets’ situation should pay market rate for a mediocre pitcher.

  5. 8
    Paul E says:


    He’s no Dave Schneck…or Don Hahn for that matter. I believe Lee Mazzilli would have had a helluva career if it weren’t for the distractions of being “Thee Man” in Flushing. I’ll have to check his career comps/most similar players were after the first three or four years

    • 9
      Tristram12 says:

      Schneck and Hahn – forever linked in this Phillies phan’s mind as the two players who came with Tug McGraw in the trade for John Stearns, Del Unser and Mac Scarce. Ya Gotta Believe!

      • 10
        John Autin says:

        Now let me get this straight:

        Mac … Scarce?

        Who’s writing this material?

        • 11
          Tristram12 says:

          That can’t be a new name to you, Mr. Autin, although he did only face one batter as a Met. In 1973, in his second season with the Phils, the 24-year-old Scarce was the ‘closer’, accumulating 12 Saves and a 2.42 ERA – 157 ERA+ (and a 1-8 record). In 1974, when he couldn’t replicate any of those numbers (except the 8 losses), they packaged him up and shipped him out for a REAL closer. In the 3rd game of 1975, the Mets brought him into a tie game (two runners on) in the bottom of the ninth, and he promptly gave up a walk-off single to Richie Hebner.

          3 days later, the Mets traded him to the Reds for Tom Hall. He was sent to the minors and stayed there for 3 years before resurfacing with the Twins.

  6. 12
    Fireworks says:

    I keep not picking up Kirk for fantasy. I keep waiting for the shoe to drop, especially since he’s supposed to only be keeping Torres’ seat warm, though I honestly hope the Mets stick with Kirk. One of the many bad things I’ve heard about the Mets the past few years is that their farm system is depleted. Yet what sort of production are you supposed to get out of a bunch of young guys that have to fill numerous holes on a depleted roster, such as in 2009? Most of the young position players the Mets have now seem to be pretty all right to me. I know you don’t look at their roster and say “these young guys are the future” the way you would about the Nats, but the Mets have money, and personally I don’t think they’re further than one good offseason splurge from being right there. Dickey is old but has figured his game out, Santana looks good, Niese seems to be developing well, I like Tejada, Duda, Nieuwenhuis, and think Davis will improve…

    I write the above because I used to hate the Mets my entire baseball life. It wasn’t until the hilarity of 07 and 08 and the tragedy of 09 and Madoff and subsequent years that I remembered that the cool Mets of the mid/late 80s that were my first initial impression of baseball were never the real Mets and that brief period where they *were* cooler than the Yankees is the exception to the rule and that it is the vile Phillies the deserve my ire. And the Red Sox.


  7. 13
    Lawrence Azrin says:

    A bit late, but is the title a reference to (film producer/studio head) Robert Evans’ 2002 autobiography? If so, what do I win?

    • 14
      John Autin says:

      (1) Yes.
      (2) I dunno … Willie Wonka’s factory?

      By the way, Andy’s in charge of prize distribution. 🙂

      P.S. I was hoping that I’d coined “The Nieuw Kid,” but now I find that it was used 3 weeks ago by commenter BlondiesJake on the site

      (Curse you, Jake!)

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