Jonathon Niese headed back to New York for MRI on elbow after exiting start

Jonathon Niese delivers a pitch in the first

Jonathon Niese delivers a pitch in the first inning of a spring training game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, March 16, 2014, in Jupiter, Fla. Photo Credit: AP / David Goldman

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JUPITER, Fla. - Jonathon Niese left his spring training start after two innings yesterday because of what the Mets called "left elbow discomfort."

Niese called it the continuation of his "spring training from hell."

Niese, who had an MRI early in spring training because of shoulder weakness, was supposed to be the Mets' Opening Day starter for the second straight season. That seems unlikely as he was scheduled to head to New York last night for an MRI on his elbow.

"It's the back of the elbow, which is good," Niese said. "I'm almost 100 percent sure it's nothing serious like Tommy John [surgery] or anything. Just a little discomfort."

Even if that turns out to be true, with two weeks to go before the season opener, the whole thing has to be giving the Mets a lot of discomfort.

"The positive is it's not his shoulder," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "But obviously, as we get closer to Opening Day, it becomes more and more problematic. So hopefully it's nothing serious, regardless of its impact on Opening Day."

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Niese said he first felt the elbow discomfort during a simulated game on March 6.

"It's one of those things where I rehabbed it and just kind of treated it and I haven't felt it," Niese said. "So I did it today, just kind of hyperextended it. Maybe irritated something. I don't know."

Niese said he didn't feel the discomfort when he made his first spring training start on Tuesday. Manager Terry Collins expressed concern that his first pitch in that game was clocked at 79 miles per hour. Niese, who was up to the high 80s by the end of that start, allowed four runs and six hits in two innings to the Cardinals.

Niese was mostly in the mid-to-high 80s in his two innings yesterday, topping out at 91 mph -- typical velocity for this time of year. He threw 35 pitches, giving up two runs and three hits. "I had a great bullpen session in between now and last start," Niese said. "I didn't feel anything. Thought it was behind me. Just kind of flared up again today."

Mets bench coach Bob Geren, who is managing this split squad with Collins running the other half in Las Vegas, decided to remove Niese just before the start of the bottom of the third inning.

"There was one pitch in the second inning -- I'm not sure which one -- it felt like a stinger and then it kind of went away," said Niese, who felt nothing unusual in the first inning and wanted to remain in the game. "I was able to pitch through it."

But the Mets chose caution, and now Niese will get checked out in New York. If he can't pitch on Opening Day, the start likely will go to Bartolo Colon or Dillon Gee. "Certainly, Bartolo, with the year he had last year, deserves [it]," Collins said. "But we also think Dillon Gee had a pretty good year for us, so it's maybe him."

If Niese starts the season on the disabled list, the Mets will have to give his spot to Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lannan or Jenrry Mejia, meaning two of the fifth-starter candidates will be in the rotation. Noah Syndergaard is expected to begin the season with Triple-A Las Vegas.

Last season, Niese was sidelined from June 21 to Aug. 11 because of a partial tear in his rotator cuff. He came back strong, going 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA. But this spring has not been fun for Niese.

"It's the spring training from hell," he said. "I've never experienced anything like this. It's just frustrating."

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With Marc Carig

in Las Vegas

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