Niese is ready to put his injury history in the past
Lefty looks to pitch a full season without landing on the DL for the first time since 2012
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For the past half-decade, Jon Niese has been a good starting pitcher for the Mets. What has stopped him from becoming a great one has been his health.
Niese has never made more than 30 starts in a season, thrown more than 190 1/3 innings or won more than 13 games.
Last year, Niese spent Opening Day on the disabled list with left elbow inflammation. In hindsight, he now says, he rushed back from the injury and returned to the DL because of it.
"There was a sharp pain," Niese said of his second injury, a shoulder strain that knocked him out for two weeks in July. "I don't know if I just tried to rush into it, without properly going through my long toss program to get it in shape. I think that's what it was. I think I got off the mound way too early before I got my arm in shape, and kind of screwed things up."
Finishing with a 3.40 ERA in 30 starts, Niese wound up submitting a season typical of his career numbers -- good, but abbreviated. So he spent the winter doubling down on workouts in Port St. Lucie, reporting regularly to the new Barwis Methods training facility at Tradition Field. His goal is to avoid a seventh DL trip over a seven-year span.
"I've never worked out like that in my whole career," said Niese, who bought a home in Florida late last year. "Getting off the mound for the first time the other day, I could tell how different it is. My arm angle's up, a lot different from last year. My shoulder feels great and I'm just ready to go."
The Mets' Opening Day starter two years ago, Niese no longer stars in a rotation that includes Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler. But he still has a chance to be a steady performer.
When Mets officials sat down at the beginning of the offseason to discuss which of their six starting pitchers they wanted to trade, they determined early on that they wanted to keep Niese -- going as far as to tell him that.
"There was always a possibility [I could be traded]," Niese said. "There's been a possibility my whole career, but I didn't really look into it. I was told that they really wanted me here, they didn't want to move me. But obviously they'll move anybody if the deal is right."
The Mets wound up moving no one, making Dillon Gee a prime candidate to move to the bullpen. As the group's only left-hander, Niese appears to have a secure job in the middle of the rotation -- provided he can stay healthy enough to keep it.
"I haven't been this confident with my arm in probably three years," Niese said. "I feel really good."