Mets starter Jon Niese went into yesterday’s outing with a 1.67 ERA in 32 1/3 career innings at Nationals Park, with 33 strikeouts and two walks.
Those numbers might’ve inspired some confidence in the 27-year-old starter.
Niese got rocked for five runs on eight hits in just four innings, however, thus continuing a recent trend of Nationals hitters demolishing left-handed pitching.
After last night’s win, the Nats are hitting .286 with a .339 on-base percentage and .434 slugging percentage against left-handers.
Against right-handers, however, the Nats are hitting just .237/.306/.380 as a team.
Niese’s problem last night wasn’t just that he left too many pitches up in the zone, it was also apparently that he throws with his left hand.
With Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper on the disabled list, the vast majority of the Nats’ everyday players are either right-handed or switch-hit. That plays a factor in the team’s strong numbers against left-handed pitching, of course.
But there’s more to it than just that.
“The middle of the lineup’s right-handed, so that speaks well to the matchups against a lefty,” manager Matt Williams said. “But you still have to have a nice approach and stay on the baseball. I think it’s good that we have a lot of guys who hit the ball to the opposite gap. So when you’re facing a left-hander, it helps to have that natural approach.
“(Friday night), we had some cutters and hit some balls to left field. Cut the ball off before it got to the catcher. So that was good approach. Guys study. They study what he’s got and what he’s going to go to, have a gameplan going up there.”
One of the Nats doing the most damage against lefties is Jayson Werth, who after last night is hitting a preposterous .457/.513/.514 off southpaws this season.
Small sample size over 39 plate appearances, sure. But it’s hard to ignore those numbers.
“I don’t know,” Werth said, when asked about why the team has fared so well against lefties. “I’ve always felt comfortable against lefties. I can’t really speak for anybody else.”
What’s led to his personal success off southpaws?
“Well, I don’t want to give away too many secrets,” he responded.
We might not get much inside information from Werth on the topic, but it’s clear Nats fans should hope lefty starters end up on the mound as often as possible. For now, with LaRoche and Harper out and guys like Werth and Scott Hairston who crush left-handed pitching in the lineup, facing southpaws equals success for the Nationals.