JUPITER, Fla. » Thankfully for Jon Niese, opening day is still 19 days away.
The Mets’ projected opening day starter had a rough Grapefruit League debut Tuesday, as he surrendered four runs over two innings in the Mets’ 9-8 win over the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. Niese labored through 50 pitches and yielded a two-run homer.
While Niese is in line to start the opener and previously had been pegged as the likely choice by manager Terry Collins, the skipper said that decision is undecided at the moment. Bartolo Colon or Dillon Gee could take the ball in Niese’s place.
"I don’t feel like my pitches are as crisp," Niese said. "Some of that might have to do with mechanics. As far as feel, my arm feels better and better each time. That’s a good sign. I’m just going to keep working."
Niese is catching up to speed as he was sidelined early in camp after experiencing discomfort in his left shoulder. He underwent an MRI in February that came back clean, and pitched in his first game-like setting Thursday in the STEP camp game.
Tuesday, Niese surrendered six hits and two walks in his brief stint. He gave up a two-run homer to Kolten Wong in the second on a pitch he described as a poorly executed cutter.
The veteran expects his mechanics will improve with every start, as he believes his time away contributed to some of his issues. Niese said he needs to work on staying back, timing his motion, and releasing the ball in front of him.
"I think it’s just repetition," Niese said. "The more times I get off the mound the better it will be."
While the results were not what he wanted, Niese was pleased his shoulder felt fine after the outing. It has been problematic dating back to last year, when he suffered a partially torn rotator cuff and missed nearly two months.
Niese previously said there was weakness in his scapula muscle in his back, but that has improved as well.
"My shoulder feels great. My shoulder feels like 100 percent right now. (Scapula muscle) doesn’t feel weak at all," Niese said. "A lot of velocity has to do with my body being on time, staying closed, and just using my whole body instead of my arm. I think that will come. I don’t think it has anything to do with my arm being weak."
The southpaw registered only in the 80s with his fastball Tuesday, below his 2013 norm, but he said that speed was fine and it should improve in his next few starts. If Niese pitches on a five-day schedule, he would have three more starts before opening day.
Collins said the lower velocity was a concern early, but it picked up as the game went on.
"There’s no discomfort," Collins said of the velocity being down. "So I’m not worried if there’s no discomfort."
Niese reiterated he’s on pace to be ready to face the Nationals on March 31.
"I think I’m almost there. I’m not 100 percent as far as where I want to be pitches-wise, but I think they’re getting more crisp," he said. "Some of the pitches I’m not really consistent with right now. The more I get on the mound the more consistent I’ll be."