Jon Niese wasn’t a fan of the Pirates’ use of defensive shifting

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The Mets brought Jon Niese back on Monday, sending reliever Antonio Bastardo to the Pirates ahead of Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

You may recall that, when the Mets traded Niese to the Pirates in December, the lefty praised the Pirates’ defense. Via Bernie Augustine of the New York Daily News, he said, “I’m sure what I’ll appreciate more than anything is the way (the Pirates) play defense. I’m looking forward to that.”

Niese’s comments were also taken as an insult to the Mets’ defense.

Now back with the Mets, Niese is walking that back. Per Marc Carig of Newsday, Niese said, “It’s unfortunate the way it got turned around but [it’s] certainly not what I meant by it. I’ve talked to a lot of the guys in the clubhouse and they respect me and I respect them and always loved them from the first time I played for them.”

Niese then criticized the Pirates’ defense, saying, “Sometimes, reinventing the game isn’t the best idea. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t.”

Niese left the Pirates with a 4.91 ERA and a 76/38 K/BB ratio in 110 innings. If the season were to end today, it would be the worst season of his career, at least by ERA. Blaming the Pirates’ defense seems weak. The error is by no means a terrific stat, but the Pirates have committed only 55 of them this season, the fourth-fewest total in the National League.

In fact, Niese’s problems have more to do with factors in his control. His 7.7 percent walk rate matches his highest rate since 2010. He’s allowed 21 home runs already, one shy of matching his career high. As a percentage of fly balls, his 21.6 percent HR/FB rate is by far a career high and is the highest rate in the majors among qualified pitchers. Niese’s 15.5 percent strikeout rate is more than two percent lower than his career average and only six other pitchers have a lower rate.

Niese has induced ground balls at an above-average rate of 53 percent. But his .244 BABIP on ground balls this year is actually below his career average ground ball BABIP of .250. If shifts were hurting him, his ground ball BABIP should be much higher.

Orioles option LHP Bruce Zimmermann to minors

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SARASOTA, Fla. – The Baltimore Orioles have optioned left-handers Bruce Zimmermann and Nick Vespi and reassigned infielder Lewin Díaz, left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez and catcher Mark Kolozsvary to minor league camp.

The Orioles announced the moves Monday.

Baltimore’s spring training roster now has 46 players.

Zimmermann made 13 starts last season. He went 2-5 with a 5.99 ERA.

The competition for rotation spots with the Orioles has been a significant story during spring training, but after the team acquired Cole Irvin and Kyle Gibson in the offseason – and with top prospect Grayson Rodriguez in the mix as well – there were a lot of pitchers Zimmermann needed to beat out.