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Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Relieved Niese returns to camp

By Adam Rubin

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Jonathon Niese twice has been dispatched to New York for MRIs during spring training. He feels like he twice has dodged bullets, with favorable diagnoses of his shoulder and now his elbow.

“I feel like that piece of paper that you stick up on a dart board, and the guy is throwing the knife at it,” Niese joked Tuesday upon returning to camp. “Luckily for me, the guy throwing the knife isn’t a very good shot.”

After being examined by team doctors David Altchek and Struan Coleman on Monday at the Hospital for Special Surgery, Niese was diagnosed with elbow inflammation, but with no structural damage. The southpaw described the results as “great news.” He expects to resume throwing Wednesday, although he doubts it will be on a mound.

“They said the UCL is strong and big and strong -- no bone arthritis or spurs or anything,” Niese said. “So all the bones and ligaments are perfect. There’s just a little inflammation in that joint in the back of my elbow. So I got a cortisone shot. It’s a little sore today from the shot, but the soreness is going down. So I should be able to throw tomorrow.”

Niese, slowed early in camp by what was eventually diagnosed as muscle weakness in the back of his shoulder, said doctors suspect the elbow trouble arose from trying to overthrow. Niese acknowledged sagging velocity early in camp might have caused him to rear back and fire too hard too soon.

“Altchek pretty much said that he thinks it’s probably from trying to look at the radar gun -- overexertion, just trying to get that extra mile an hour,” Niese said. “And all of a sudden mechanically you go the wrong way one time and all of a sudden it pinches and it’s irritated. One thing I’m going to try to stop looking at this spring is the radar gun and just go by feel, because I know if I feel good the velocity is going to be there.”

The Mets have not officially committed to it yet, but team insiders expect Niese will stay behind in Florida and open the season on the disabled list when the Mets break camp. That is not as dire as it might seem. The Mets do not need a fifth starter until their sixth game, on April 6 against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field. That would be the day Niese is eligible to return from the disabled list. It would allow the Mets to carry an extra bench player for most of the first homestand.

“Whatever,” said Niese, who originally had been slated to be the Opening Day starter. “I don’t have an ego. I just want to get my arm ready. If that means I’m the fifth starter, the eighth starter, it doesn’t matter to me, just as long as I get my arm right and I’m healthy so we can play in October.”

Niese threw only two innings and 35 pitches on Sunday before having to be pulled from a game in Jupiter. Asked if staying behind and getting an extra Florida start would help him get ready for the regular season, Niese said: “Yeah, possibly. It kind of depends on how the rest of the spring goes. I don’t want to rush it. But, at the same time, I want to break camp with the team. ... There’s really no way of telling until I start throwing again and get off a mound and see how I feel.”

Regardless, Niese hopes his next trip to New York is to join the Mets -- not for another MRI.

“I hope so. I’m sick and tired of going to New York,” Niese said with a laugh. “It’s too cold up there.”