Jonathon Niese had downplayed the significance of pitching Opening Day, saying he would approach it like any other start.
When he stepped onto the mound at Citi Field, however, he felt a rush from delivering the first pitch of the Mets’ season. Niese became the 22nd different pitcher in franchise history with that distinction.
New York Mets
“I’m not going to lie. The adrenaline was pumping,” Niese said. “But I prepared as if it was any other game. Before the game, I had my pregame routine that I followed.”
Said Terry Collins: “Probably three weeks before we named him the Opening Day starter, I went to him and said, ‘Hey, look, there’s a real good chance Johan [Santana] is not going to be ready. And if he’s not, it’s going to be you.’ And he said, ‘All right!’ That means he wanted it bad. He got himself ready for it, for sure. He pitched a great game.”
Niese limited the San Diego Padres to two runs on four hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings as the Mets won, 11-2. He also had two hits, a walk and RBI.
“He had a good two-seamer going. His cutter in was working well for him,” catcher John Buck said. “So he was spreading the plate really well. And then that curveball, obviously, is a weapon to have with two strikes.”
Niese had to convince Collins to send him out for the seventh. He finished with 101 pitches.
“I think last year was kind of a year where I kind of hit that sixth inning and had 95 pitches and they kind of shut me down,” Niese said. “I think this year I want to be that guy who goes back out and finishes my starts.”
Still, Niese said, there are limits to his designation as Opening Day starter. He does not view himself as the leader of the staff, even with Santana set to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery Tuesday.
“As far as leading the staff, I really don’t want to fulfill that role,” Niese said. “Everybody, all the guys in the rotation, have something different to offer. So I’m willing to learn from them, and I’m sure they’re willing to learn from me. We all have a job to do. Each one of us has a different way of going about it.”