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Mets Looking After Their Niese

Trip to DL shows team not taking any chances

On Friday night against the Rangers, the Mets showed they had no problem exercising caution when it came to their left-hander starter Jonathan Neise.

An Alex Rios line drive was rocketed right off the back off Niese in the first inning, appearing to catch him close to the rib area. Despite pleas to stay in the game and reassurances that he would be left with just a bruise, trainer Ray Ramirez insisted Niese be removed from the game and manager Terry Collins agreed. So after 12 pitches, Niese’s start was done.

After the game Niese, slated for one more start before the all-star break, said he hoped to be able to come back early and possibly make two more starts before the summer classic.

It appeared the Mets had dodged a bullet. But on Saturday the latest word was that Niese could be headed to the DL, and on Sunday he did just that. He is not heading to the sidelines as a result of the line drive which had left him bruised, but instead a much scarier diagnosis when it comes to pitchers: left shoulder strain.

There had been both internal and external concerns of a drop in velocity from Niese, and this injury would seem to be the cause. He’s also had a history of shoulder issues, missing six weeks last season with a partial tear of the rotator cuff and the first turn of the rotation this season.

“I could pitch now, it’s just one of those things where I would have to battle through it…if I tried to pitch  through what I had last year I’d be lucky If I hit 80 [mph],” Niese said after Sunday’s game.

Despite the drop in velocity, Niese has still been one of the best pitchers on New York’s staff, and Terry Collins knows that. “Okay, so he’s not 92-93 [mph]  anymore, but when he’s 88-91 [mph] he’s been locating so well, I don’t think he needs the extra clicks anymore.”

 Even with the decreased velocity, the Mets have themselves a frontline starter in Niese. He came into last night’s game with the eighth best ERA in the majors since last August 11, when he returned from a DL stint due to last year’s shoulder issues. Despite giving up a leadoff home run and the early exit, Niese extended his major league leading streak of 21 starts giving up three earned runs or less.

He was due to start Opening Day this season but that honor went to Dillon Gee, who is scheduled to return from his own DL stint and pitch in Niese’s place on Wednesday. While Gee had been impressive before a strained back muscle landed him on the disabled list on May 11, it is Niese who has become the Amazins must consistent pitcher.

Because there is just one week left until the all-star break Niese would only have to miss one start, as both Collins and Niese are confident he would be able to return when the Mets return to action in San Diego.

With the injuries and other disappointments that have dominated the 2014 Mets season, the one constant has been the consistent pitching of Niese. The Mets ultimate plan for 2014 success was to have a rotation anchored by the second year of a dominant Matt Harvey, the emergence of Zack Wheeler as a fearsome number two, and the promotion of phenom Noah Syndergaard in the middle of the summer to complete the best young pitching trio in the game.

But with Harvey recovering from Tommy John surgery, Wheeler going through the struggles of a first full season, and an inconsistent AAA season for Syndergaard possibly keeping him from the MLB this year, it’s been Jon Niese who has anchored the staff. For this year and beyond, the Mets need a healthy Jonathan Niese in the middle of their rotation.

He doesn’t garner the national attention like Harvey, nor did he have the extreme anticipation coming up through the system like Wheeler or Syndergaard. But in July of 2014, Jonathan Niese is the most important pitcher for the New York Mets. And even if he is capable of pitching through “fatigue” as he puts it, it’s not worth it to risk his long term health on 1 or 2 starts.

The Mets showed their commitment to protecting Niese on Friday night when they took him out after 12 pitches. And in a season that has seemed to include more poor decision than good ones, the Mets need to hope that their best decision in recent memory, their careful handling of their de facto ace, will benefit the franchise for years to come.