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: Welington Castillo to be suspended 80 games for violating Joint Drug Agreement

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Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic confirms a report from journalist Américo Celado that White Sox catcher Welington Castillo will be suspended 80 games for violating baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement. Castillo was believed to have used a steroid, but according to Rosenthal, the substance was not a steroid. More details should come on Thursday.

Castillo, 31, entered Wednesday’s action batting .270/.314/.477 with six home runs and 15 RBI in 118 plate appearances. He has gotten the bulk of the work behind the plate, backed up by Omar Narváez.

Castillo’s absence will likely prompt the White Sox to call up Kevan Smith from Triple-A Charlotte. Smith battled an ankle injury in March and April, so he got a late start to the season. In 102 PA at Triple-A, he has hit .283/.343/.457.