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Jon Niese, Mets get shot in the arm with clean MRI

Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese throws against the

Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese throws against the San Diego Padres in the first inning. (Aug. 16, 2013) Credit: AP

JUPITER, Fla. - The Mets got the news they were hoping for when they sent Jon Niese to New York for an MRI on his pitching elbow.

Niese's tests came back clean, the team said Monday, and the lefthander was given a cortisone injection to relieve the "discomfort" he felt during a spring training start on Sunday. His self-described "spring training from hell" will resume later this week after a rest period of 48 to 72 hours. That's when he'll begin throwing again in hopes of starting the team's fifth game of the season.

It seems a foregone conclusion that Niese, who had an MRI on his pitching shoulder late last month after complaining of pain, will not be ready to make his second straight Opening Day start. He has thrown four innings this spring training and had half as many MRIs.

"I'm not sure how many MRIs you're allowed to have in the month before you start worrying about things," manager Terry Collins said. "But his arm's been looked at in every which way and direction. There's certainly nothing in there. So it's about making sure he realizes he's got to go out and finish out the spring and try to stay as healthy as he can . . . and be ready for when we need him."

Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee will be considered for the March 31 opener against the Nationals at Citi Field if Niese can't go, Collins said. Zack Wheeler is not a candidate, according to the manager.

In the best-case scenario, Niese will start the season on the disabled list and be ready to pitch on April 6 vs. Cincinnati, when the Mets first need a fifth starter. But nothing about Niese's spring training has been best-case so far.

After missing time with the shoulder weakness, Niese said he felt the elbow discomfort during a simulated game on March 6. He said he was treated with anti-inflammatory medication.

Collins expressed concern when Niese's fastball registered only 79 miles per hour on the first pitch of his first spring training start on March 11. But Niese said he felt fine, and his velocity later in that start and in his two innings on Sunday was in the usual high-80s range.

Niese missed seven weeks in 2013 with a partial tear of his rotator cuff. Both recent MRIs have come back without showing anything worrisome. But a 27-year-old pitcher needing two MRIs before Opening Day is worrisome in itself.

The Mets already are holding a competition for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who will start Tuesday, is the presumed leader. The other two candidates, Jenrry Mejia and John Lannan, performed poorly in the wake of Niese's injury.

On Sunday, Mejia allowed three runs (two earned) in 2 1/3 innings against the Cubs in Las Vegas. He walked two and hit a batter.

On Monday, Lannan was worse against the Marlins. The lefthander from Long Beach recorded 10 outs and allowed 12 baserunners. In 31/3 innings, Lannan gave up five runs and eight hits with four walks and one strikeout in the Mets' 10-7 loss.

"Just had a bad day," he said. "Just couldn't find the strike zone. Everything felt pretty good. Just missing the plate. Curveball, slider, everything was just kind of falling off. Just couldn't command the strike zone like I did the previous couple outings."

Mejia and/or Lannan could end up in the bullpen if Niese is able to pitch by April 6.

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