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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.

Angels sign Eric Young, Jr. to a minor league contract

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 11:  Eric Young Jr. #4 of the Atlanta Braves slides safely into third base on a RBI triple in the fifth inning against the New York Mets during the Braves opening series at Turner Field on April 11, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Andrelton Simmons #19 scored on the triple.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels have inked outfielder Eric Young, Jr. to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Young, 31, played in just six games and logged one plate appearance in the majors this past season with the Yankees. He last played regularly in 2014. While Young doesn’t do much with the bat, he could provide value as a pinch-runner. He also offers versatility, having played all three outfield positions along with second base.

The Angels have Ben Revere as their fourth outfielder and Jefry Marte behind him, so Young would need to have a very impressive showing in spring training to find a spot on the Angels’ roster.

Report: Blue Jays close to a deal with Jarrod Saltalamacchia

TORONTO, CANADA - JULY 9: Jarrod Saltalamacchia #39 of the Detroit Tigers hits an RBI single in the fourth inning during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays on July 9, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Update (5:20 PM EST): It’s a minor league contract, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. If he makes the major league roster, Saltalamacchia will earn $1.25 million with an additional $250,000 available through incentives.

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The Blue Jays are close to a deal with free agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet is reporting.

Saltalamacchia, 31, hit a meager .171/.284/.346 with 12 home runs and 38 RBI in 292 plate appearances with the Tigers this past season. With Russell Martin getting regular playing time behind the plate, Saltalamacchia will serve as his understudy, pushing A.J. Jimenez and Juan Graterol down on the depth chart.

The veteran catcher isn’t far removed from being a productive backstop. He had an .805 OPS in 70 games with the Diamondbacks in 2015 and also helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2013 with an .804 OPS in 121 games.