When Jonathon Niese came out of a Wednesday bullpen session complaining of a “dead” arm, the New York Mets had plenty of reason for concern. With Matt Harvey already out for the year and Bartolo Colon taking it easy after straining his calf, Niese going down for any significant period of time would be disastrous, especially early in the year.
Besides his matchup advantage, Niese is a homegrown veteran who is expected to provide stability to the wave of youngsters certain to see time in 2014. Zach Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero can all learn from a man who has come up through the system, battling injuries and expectations all the way.
Projected to be the Mets’ Opening Day starter, the only lefty in the rotation performed the honor last season. A tear in his rotator cuff shut him down from June 21 until Aug. 11 and the team has been working him back slowly, to avoid re-injury.
With so many “if’s” attached to the Mets’ season (1B, CF, C, SS and in the bullpen) and the rotation deceivingly thin (the farmhands look alright, but have never really been challenged which isn’t exactly ideal if a starter or two go down), Niese is one of the guys who must stay on the field and perform up to his standards if the team wants any shot at respectability.
So even while the ensuing MRI was described as “precautionary,” fans surely felt the hiccups upon hearing the news. Niese was immediately scratched from his first Grapefruit League start next Tuesday against the Houston Astros with Wheeler taking his place.
Niese’s MRI returned clean, this time, but given his history, the question in the back of everyone’s mind is, “can he stay healthy?”
He simply must, there’s no way around it. The Mets need Niese’s 3.99 career ERA on the mound, even if that means slowing him down as he regains shoulder strength — including if it means skipping him on March 31.
That might not be the worst outcome, anyway, as long as Niese is healthy long-term; I know at least one guy in the rotation ready to take the ball.