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Jonathon Niese believes he's two rehab starts away from return

Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese wipes his face

Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese wipes his face after allowing a run during the third inning against the Atlanta Braves. (June 20, 2013) Credit: AP

MIAMI -- Jonathon Niese rubbed his bare forearms Monday as he shivered in the air-conditioned chill of the visiting clubhouse at Marlins Park. But those temperature issues were nothing compared with the frigid conditions in Minnesota and Colorado that he blames for derailing his season, although he seems to be on the way back.

Niese drove from the Mets' Port St. Lucie complex Monday to throw a bullpen session with the team. He believes he needs just two more rehab starts before rejoining the starting rotation. He is scheduled to pitch Thursday for Class A Port St. Lucie.

"My arm feels great," he said.

The 26-year-old lefthander is working his way back from a small rotator cuff tear that the team initially believed might end his season. But after the inflammation in the joint went away, the injury wasn't as severe as previously thought.

Niese's troubles began early in the season when he made consecutive starts in below-freezing weather in Minnesota and Colorado.

"It was just a struggle to heal in-between starts," Niese said. "It was just a battle just to feel good. I didn't have my dominating stuff."

Niese said he eventually began feeling pain that got progressively worse. The Mets shut him down for two weeks, and the rest seemed to do wonders for him.

Said Niese: "Whatever it was, it worked."

Byrd in flight?

The non-waiver trade deadline is 4 p.m. Wednesday, but the Mets still don't appear inclined to move perhaps their most marketable trade piece, outfielder Marlon Byrd.

There is industry perception that the Mets appear willing to move him, but one source said they have not backed off their "extremely high" asking price for Byrd, whose 17 homers were tied for ninth in the National League beginning action Monday.

Byrd, 35, would fit with the Pirates, who have a need for outfield help. As of Monday night, however, there were no indications that the teams have engaged in any serious talks.

The Mets also have made it clear to rival clubs that closer Bobby Parnell is off-limits.

Stranded in the desert

Utilityman Jordany Valdespin and shortstop Ruben Tejada are doing great with Triple-A Las Vegas in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Before the team's doubleheader Monday, Valdespin was hitting .500 (22-for-44) with 21 RBIs in 11 games and Tejada was hitting .337 in 24 games.

Nevertheless, manager Terry Collins said neither player appears to be on track to rejoin the Mets anytime soon. The Mets are content with the current composition of the bench.

Valdespin didn't help his cause by throwing a clubhouse tantrum upon his July 13 demotion, the latest in a long line of behavioral incidents that have plagued his professional career. His latest outburst came in the presence of general manager Sandy Alderson.

"He might have to ride it out for a little while," said Collins, pointing out the Mets' roster situation.

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