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MRI results show Niese's shoulder is 'clean'

Projected Opening Day starter set to resume throwing in a few days

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- From hundreds of miles to the north, Jon Niese set a tone for the Mets' training camp Thursday morning by doing little more than lying on his back and remaining motionless. The rest of the responsibility fell to the magnetic resonance imaging tube at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.

The results of the MRI performed on Niese on Thursday were negative. No need for surgery -- special or otherwise -- exists in the shoulder of the left-handed pitcher and more-than-presumed Opening Day starter for the Mets.

And when is the last time a Mets player traveled from West Palm Beach, Fla., to LaGuardia Airport in February or March and came away with something so positive?

"I don't know," Niese said after returning from New York to his new home in Florida. "Usually when our guys have gone up to get looked at, they've come back with bad news. I'm happy I've given people some peace of mind."

Perhaps, as former announcer Bob Murphy used to say, the worm has turned. Perhaps another slithering creature no longer applies to the Mets. Perhaps the dual adjective used by owner Fred Wilpon a few years back can be mothballed for a while. Maybe his team no longer is snakebit. A visit to the hospital and no prognosis that extends beyond Memorial Day. Is a U-turn underway?

It was a breathy and mostly inaudible "phew" that sounded here in the morning, an exhale unfamiliar to a club that has used X-ray equipment to take the team photo in recent years. Once the close-to-the-vest club decided it could share the good news with its public, the words essentially exploded from the mouth of manager Terry Collins.

"No shoulder problem at all," Collins said with palpable glee. "They think in a few days he'll be back and ready to go. So we'll get him back on a mound as soon as we can. It was very, very good news. The shoulder is actually very, very good -- a clean shoulder. They said it looks better than it did last year at this time, which is great news for us."

How improvement occurs inside a shoulder of a 27-year-old pitcher is hard to figure, but Collins saluted the Mets' occasionally-scorned medical and training staffs.

Mets physician David Altchek diagnosed a weakness in the back of Niese's left shoulder, one that can be eliminated rather quickly through exercises.

"Dr. Altchek told me not to pitch, but I can throw for a few days and then get back to my normal routine," Niese said. "There's just some weakness in the back. It's nothing bad, nothing like last year when I had the MRI. ... I pretty much knew I was OK before I went up to New York, but it's not a bad thing to make sure."

Niese is certain this episode will not prevent him from starting the Mets' first game March 31 at Citi Field against the Nationals.

"And if it does ... " Collins said. "He'll start the fifth game. It's not a big deal."

Perhaps a bigger deal is this: "We've got our first break." Those too are words from Collins. In his other seasons with the Mets, the first break seemed to come after the Fourth of July and after the Mets' disabled list looked like an overstuffed sandwich. "This one might put him back 10-15 days at the most from what they're saying, not 3 1/2 weeks."

And according to Niese, not 10-15 days either.

"Right now, I feel great," said Niese, who estimates he's had seven or eight MRIs. "[These results] are the best. Nothing's wrong."

Marty Noble is a reporter for

New York Mets, Jon Niese