CLEVELAND - Scott Rice waited 14 years for the chance to pitch in the major leagues. And once he broke through with the Mets this spring, the lefthander made up for lost time, leading all of baseball with 73 appearances.
But the 31-year-old's rookie season is officially over. Rice will have surgery with a specialist in Philadelphia on Tuesday to repair a sports hernia that has bothered him since late June, bringing to a close a season in which he carved out a niche as an effective lefty specialist.
"I couldn't have asked for a better rookie season," said Rice, who went 4-5 with a 3.71 ERA in 51 innings. "The opportunity that Terry [Collins] and Sandy [Alderson] and the whole Mets organization gave me, I'm still thankful for it."
Rice first felt symptoms of the hernia in late June, though he managed the condition well enough that the pain eventually dissipated. However, during the team's series in Atlanta this week, he could barely walk. Even light activities such as stretching gave him problems.
He spent much of Sunday in the trainer's room. To help bear the pain, he avoided any throwing. The only exception came when Collins asked him to warm up in the bullpen. He pitched through games on little more than adrenaline, though each day the condition worsened.
"It's been quite a while," Collins said.
Initially, the club thought Rice had been battling a strained hip. But with discomfort lingering, the Mets sent Rice for tests during the team's day off Thursday. He called the hernia an injury of "fatigue," one that he called "fairly common." Mets relievers Tim Byrdak and Scott Atchison have dealt with similar issues.
Rice is scheduled for surgery Tuesday, a bittersweet end to what has been a breakout year.
"I've always felt I could do it," said Rice, who viewed the season as validation. "I was just waiting for the opportunity."
Rice had been just one of four Mets players -- joining LaTroy Hawkins, Daniel Murphy and Dillon Gee -- to remain on the 25-man roster uninterrupted since Opening Day.
Lefthanders hit just .174 against Rice, a former first-round draft pick (Orioles, 1999) whose winding road to the big leagues included a 2008 stint with the Long Island Ducks. Though he issued 4.8 walks per nine innings, an area he'll need to improve upon, he allowed just one home run all season.
"He should be very proud," Collins said, noting Rice's long tenure in the minors. "He's had an outstanding year, just an outstanding year."
For the first time in his career, Rice appears to have a big-league spot to lose entering next spring training. Nevertheless, Rice said he will arrive in camp expecting to compete for his spot. He's expected to be ready for spring training.
"Throughout my career, I've learned to never take anything for granted," Rice said. "Every day I'm here and I'm just thankful. I've tried to make the most out of every day."