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Jon Niese hammered for eight runs as ERA rises to 5.93

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When Jon Niese was awarded his first Opening Day assignment this year, the hope was that he would help lead the Mets’ rotation with Johan Santana sidelined and R.A. Dickey in Toronto. However, while Matt Harvey has quickly emerged as that No. 1 guy, Niese hasn’t looked anything close to the same pitcher.

Niese’s early season struggles continued this afternoon against the Pirates, as he was hammered for eight runs on eight hits and three walks over just 4 1/3 innings. The eight runs allowed matched a career-high.

Niese took a nice step forward last year with a 3.40 ERA in 30 starts, but he now has a 5.93 ERA through eight starts. Meanwhile, he has compiled an ugly 21/22 K/BB ratio over 41 innings and has even lost a tick off his velocity. Not what you want to see from someone who averaged 7.5 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 for his career coming into 2013.

It’s worth noting that Mets manager Terry Collins said Niese was dealing with “a knot” in his back after he gave up seven runs in four innings against the Braves last Sunday. Niese later downplayed the situation, but one wonders whether he has altered his mechanics to compensate for the discomfort. Either way, something isn’t right.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.