Mets move Nieve from bullpen to starting rotation

New York Mets relief pitcher #38 Fernando Nieve New York Mets relief pitcher #38 Fernando Nieve delivers during the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants. (May 8, 2010) Photo Credit: Photo by KEVIN P. COUGHLIN

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At first it seemed like just one of those off-the-cuff things that Jerry Manuel says and never follows through on. Just Jerry being Jerry.

But Manuel's declaration last night that Fernando Nieve is the "leading candidate" to start against the Brewers on Saturday was backed up by the pitcher himself.

Nieve said Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen told him to plan to start on Saturday at Miller Park. It's a surprising choice to fill the spot open by Jonathon Niese's presence on the disabled list, but Manuel is known for proposing - and sometimes even doing - the unexpected.

Nieve, who started seven games for the Mets last season, this year has been to Manuel what Scott Proctor once was to Joe Torre: the guy who seems to get used over and over out of the bullpen.

In fact, he even pitched the ninth inning of last night's 5-0 Mets win over the Phillies. But that shouldn't stop him from starting on Saturday, Manuel said.

Nieve is tied with teammate Pedro Feliciano for the major-league lead in appearances with 27, all out of the bullpen. But now it appears as if he's going to get his wish to be a starter. Nieve said he thought he could throw 70-80 pitches against the Brewers.

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"He deserves a shot in my opinion," Manuel said. "I thought he pitched very well here last year. And then competing with Jon Niese for that fifth spot, I don't know if he did a lot to lose it. We thought he fit better for us in the pen."

Now, apparently, the Mets believe Ryota Igarashi and Jenrry Mejia can handle the righthanded set-up work. Manuel said he expects Niese (hamstring) to make a minor-league rehab start as early as this weekend before he returns, so Nieve could have more than one chance to impress as R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi have in their brief starting stints.

"A big part of it is to continue to create depth in the starting rotation," Manuel said. "If he can do that and you can get John Maine back, Jonathon Niese back, it really puts you in a good position."

(Manuel did not mention getting Oliver Perez back, which was probably not an oversight.)

Asked if he wants to be a starter, Nieve nodded.

"I went to spring training to get a spot in the rotation and now I have a chance to be there," he said. "I hope to do good and make a good impression for them to keep me in the rotation . . . I would like to be there for a long time."

Said Manuel: "We'd like to look at it. Anytime we do this, we try to think long term. If he does well, he continues to get the ball. If you come to a situation where we have too many starters, that's all good, too."

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