Jon Niese was projected to be the starter for the first game of the season for the New York Mets against the Nationals on March 31. However, given that Niese has only pitched four innings due to issues related to his elbow and shoulder, that is seriously in doubt. Niese did receive some positive news on his elbow from the MRI which showed that there was shown to be no structural damage. He will receive cortisone shots and rest for a few days before resuming his spring training activities. That said, with only two weeks until spring training it is unknown if Niese will be ready for Opening Day. So how is this problem going to be solved?
First, Bartolo Colon will likely move up to be the starter on March 31. Colon has experience with starting the opening game and being an ace throughout his long career so it is likely Terry Collins will turn to Colon. Dillon Gee and Zack Wheeler should also be expected to start in the first series against the Nationals. Dillon Gee has also been mentioned as an potential Opening Day starter but Colon is the better bet mainly as a result of his prior experience- Gee is still a young pitcher who is perhaps not ready for the pressure of starting on Opening Day. Zack Wheeler, while being the public’s favorite option to get the start, will most likely not be thrust into that role in the same way that Matt Harvey was not given the role last season.
If Niese is forced to start the season on the disabled list, the Mets actually are in good enough shape in terms of pitching depth to manage, at least in the short run. Daisuke Matsuzaka had put himself in a good position to win the job as the fifth starter. He would move up to the fourth spot. The fifth spot would be taken by John Lannan or Jenrry Mejia. Lannan had expressed a willingness to move to the bullpen so if that were the case Mejia would stand to take the fifth starter spot. Matsuzaka, Lannan and Mejia have all pitched well in Grapefruit League play and they all have major league experience. Matsuzaka and Lannan have played with a handful of other teams over their careers. Mejia has gotten a few chances with the Mets including a stint as a starter towards the end of last season.
Another option could be Carlos Torres who served as a spot starter on several occasions last season and has already locked up a position in this year’s bullpen.
Of course the Mets have two other options expected to begin in AAA but who could, if needed, fill a big league role earlier in the year than assumed. Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard both have had very solid spring trainings in big league camp and are both expected to be on the big league squad by mid-summer. However, if pressed the Mets could opt to have one of them break spring training with the team if Niese is expected to miss a significant amount of time. This is the least likely of scenarios given the performances of the three competitors for the fifth spot but it is a possibility.
Most likely, the Mets would end up keeping Mejia, Matsuzaka and Lannan on the roster and using that committee to fill the final two rotation spots while keeping Torres in the bullpen for the time being.
This may only be a necessity for the first few series as Niese’s arm is expected to be fine in the longer term indicating that he may be back after only a little more work at extended spring training.
UPDATE: Dillon Gee appears to have been given the nod to start opening day by manager Terry Collins