Two days before the New York Mets’ opening spring training game against the Washington Nationals, their most likely candidate to start on the mound on Opening Day got sent back to New York.
Jonathan Niese complained of a “dead arm” after throwing in Port St. Lucie this week, prompting the Mets to immediately put him on a plane north for an MRI on a shoulder that landed him on the disabled list for two months last season.
Niese sent a text message to MLB.com stressing that this discomfort does not compare to the severity of pain he felt in 2013 before going on the DL with a partially torn rotator cuff. But, given the checkered history of Mets’ pitchers arms the last half-decade, it’s not unreasonable to wonder about the state of that rotator cuff.
A generation ago, a torn rotator cuff was akin to a death sentence for a pitcher. Now, medical advances have moved the diagnosis down on the list of the worst news a pitcher can hear. Nonetheless, Niese returned later in 2013 without having had any sort of surgical intervention, merely rehabilitation. And, indeed, he pitched far better after returning from the injury than he had before it. He was 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA in his last 10 starts—the second consecutive year that Niese finished strong after, earlier in his career, consistently pitching worse in the latter stages of a season than in the earlier stages.
The Mets will no doubt be quite guarded of Niese’s status now regardless of what the MRI ends up showing. With that in mind, they can look at sophomore Zack Wheeler, new acquisition Bartolo Colon or undersung veteran Dillon Gee as the other opening day candidates.