It may have happened by default with the injury to Johan Santana, but New York Mets pitcher Jon Niese has earned the right to be the team’s opening-day starter. If Santana were healthy, it would have undoubtedly been him to kick off his final season with the team by starting on opening day, but in a lot of ways, it makes sense for Niese to be the starter for the season opener instead.
Heading into the season, Niese is the best and most reliable pitcher the Mets have in their rotation. In 2012, he set career bests for innings pitched, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, and wins. He solidified himself as a steady and dependable force in the Mets rotation, as he proved himself capable of being a front of the rotation starter. Niese did all that after signing a five-year extension with the Mets, showing no signs of complacency. Instead, Niese lived up to the new contract and embraced the role of a young player that the Mets could build around.
This past offseason, as the Mets were not so surreptitiously shopping R.A. Dickey, the team was resistant to trading away Niese, who garnered a lot more trade interest from teams and would have brought in an even better package of prospects than the Mets got in exchange for Dickey. By holding onto Niese, the Mets were showing a commitment to Niese for the future, and a belief that he will be an integral part of the franchise as it continues the rebuilding process.
Niese is now the leader of a new generation of young Mets pitchers. He has established himself as the team’s best starter, but still continues to grow and improve as a pitcher. As the rest of the Mets contingent of young power pitches begin to join Niese in the big leagues, his role begins to grow, and the next logical step is for him to be the team’s opening day starter. Although he is only taking the mound on opening day because Santana is injured and unavailable, Niese is symbolically the right choice to be the Mets opening-day starter, but more importantly, he has earned it with his performance.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him to your network on Google+.