New York Mets fans have been conditioned to expect the worst when one of their players suffers an injury. A tweak in the hamstring could mean a month on the disabled list. A sprained ankle could mean an entire half on the shelf. Day to day with a hangnail? See you next year. But left-handed pitcher Jonathan Niese has defied the Mets’ perceived bad injury luck. In fact, he’s shown recovery powers rivaled only by comic book hero Wolverine.
Last year, Niese was diagnosed with a partial tear in his rotator cuff. Conventional wisdom suggests that any kind of rotator cuff injury, let alone a tear, is major trouble for any pitcher. Remarkably, Niese missed only a month of the season, and returned as strong as ever following a rest-and-rehab program.
This spring, Niese complained of shoulder pain and arm deadness early in camp. An MRI revealed no structural damage, only a weak scapula – a result of a lack of concentrated workouts in that area. He was cleared to throw again, and began to pitch. Midway through March, Niese left a preseason game with elbow pain. Again, Niese dodged a bullet. Another MRI showed that his ligaments were strong, and his elbow was clear of spurs or chips. A little inflammation in the back of the joint was the culprit, and was treated with a cortisone shot.
Two rehab starts later, the unsinkable Niese made his 2014 debut for the Mets on Sunday, throwing well. His fastball was at its customary low-nineties velocity range, his cutter was sharp, and he even mixed in some of his 12-6 curveballs. He left the game after throwing 90 pitches (he came into the start with a 95-pitch limit). He went 5.2 innings, giving up two earned runs on six singles, with a walk and six strikeouts.
The Mets couldn’t generate any offense against Cincinnati Reds pitching, and the boys from Queens lost by a score of 2-1. But a healthy, effective Niese is a huge positive for the Mets. Until Sunday, it looked for all the world that Niese would spend significant time on the DL. But he outran the injury specter and the Mets’ penchant for bad luck, and lived to pitch another day.
One could say Niese is living a charmed life. Or, one could say Niese has been diligent in reporting any unusual pain — something a lot of ballplayers won’t do because of pride. Fortunately, his bills of health have been clean thus far. A healthy Jon Niese is a bonus for the Mets. He adds a veteran presence and depth to the starting rotation.