Niese leaving early-season struggles behind

Left-hander allows one run over six innings in win over Rangers

Niese leaving early-season struggles behind

ARLINGTON -- After struggling through a rough first month of the season, Pirates lefty Jonathon Niese has undergone a rapid turnaround in May, posting four consecutive quality starts including a one-run, six-inning outing on Friday in a 9-1 win over the Rangers.

Niese's ERA was 5.94 after a messy May 3 start against the Cubs in which he allowed six earned runs on nine hits and five walks, but he has allowed only seven runs over his past 25 2/3 innings, good for a 2.45 ERA and a 2-1 record during his last four starts. Niese said there was no magic cure to his early ailments, just continued refinement.

"I'd never experienced struggles this early, so to experience them this early, I kind of didn't really know what to do," Niese said. "A lot of it's mental. I know I have it in me. In my sides between games I was able to work on the mechanical part of it. It wasn't a huge difference, just little, minute things, I just made the adjustments and it's been paying off in games."

Manager Clint Hurdle said he can see a big difference after Niese's early-season struggles.

"He's working and developing and the delivery's repeating itself, he's maintaining his line towards home plate," Hurdle said. "He's just physically getting in a good place where all those little things are falling together. It's downhill with some angle. That's why he's making the move he's making, the ground balls are playing, the balls aren't getting squared up as much as they were earlier. He continues to work hard."

Niese got 10 groundball outs on Friday and didn't give the Rangers much of a chance, offensively. His only consequential mistake was a pitch Adrian Beltre crushed to left for a solo homer in the sixth.

"He pounded the zone, for me that's a good hitting club over there, he only had three three-ball counts on the night which is big for him, he only walked one guy, made them swing the bat, challenged the zone, was good with his first-pitch strikes and he stayed after them," Hurdle said.

Niese won his only other start in Arlington, on June 25, 2011, as a member of the Mets, but that was a worrisome victory as he left the game due to a rapid heartbeat.

"That's really behind me now," he said.

So is the rough first month of 2016.

Dave Sessions is a contributor to MLB.com who covered the Pirates on Friday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.