As worst nightmares go, seeing Jonathon Niese hop around on one leg before collapsing to the ground in the third inning last night probably wasn't at the very top of the Mets' list. That spot is reserved for anything nefarious that might happen to Matt Harvey.
But it had to be somewhere in the top five, and losing Niese would be a painful blow for the Mets' weakened rotation to absorb. Niese, the only solid starter behind Harvey, was nailed on the back of his right ankle by a Mark Ellis grounder, and the Mets initially described his injury as a "contusion" with the prognosis of day-to-day.
After last night's 7-2 loss to the Dodgers, that outlook brightened some, with Niese and Terry Collins both of the mind-set that the pitcher would make his next start. The final determination will come tomorrow, when Niese is scheduled for his routine side session. At the moment of impact, however, he was legitimately scared.
"It felt like a stinger," Niese said. "It made my whole foot numb. Everything just locked up down there. I couldn't move my toes."
When Niese crumpled to the ground, Collins saw the season flash in front of his eyes.
"Your first worry is that it's something serious," Collins said, "and how we're going to fill it."
The immediate hole was patched by Robert Carson, who allowed one run in 21/3 innings and also started a two-run rally in the third by drawing a two-out walk from Clayton Kershaw. But the rest of the bullpen couldn't close the deal, or contain Ellis, who hurt the Mets in every way possible.
After taking out Niese, Ellis polished his 4-for-5 night with a pair of home runs, including a three-run shot off Brandon Lyon that snapped a tie at 2 in the seventh. As for Kershaw, he didn't last much longer than Niese.
The Mets forced him to throw 111 pitches in five innings, but they scored only two runs, both in the third on RBI singles by Daniel Murphy and David Wright. Kershaw's ERA jumped to 2.14 from 1.88, but Ellis took him off the hook, first tying the game with his solo shot in the fifth.
The concern for Niese, however, outweighed any disappointment felt by the loss. Niese appeared to be in a great deal of pain at the time, but seemed to be moving OK after the game.
"It's a lot better than what I thought it was going to be," Niese said. "I've got feeling in it now. We'll see how it feels [today], but I should be able to throw a bullpen."
But if Niese does have trouble, the Mets have Collin McHugh (already on the 40-man roster) and the newly signed D.J. Mitchell (not) as probably the easiest ones to shuffle in and out.
Two of the more headline-worthy options, Zack Wheeler and Rafael Montero, do not appear ready for a promotion. Wheeler, who was bothered by a finger blister early on, is 0-1 with 4.91 ERA at Triple-A Las Vegas.
Montero is an intriguing candidate, but he's just 22 and only four starts into what has been an impressive introduction (3-0, 1.59 ERA) to Double-A Binghamton. Before last night's game -- and Niese's injury -- Collins talked enthusiastically about Montero when asked about having him potentially skip a level.
"I can envision that, absolutely," Collins said. "A lot of have said this guy may be as good if not better than all of them."