PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- What began as a simple jab from a veteran turned into an offseason operation for Jon Niese, resulting in better conditioning and -- he hopes -- ultimately some better performances on the mound.
At the behest of former teammate Carlos Beltran, Niese underwent rhinoplasty reconstruction surgery in October, allowing him to breathe normally for the first time in his career and increase the intensity of his cardiovascular workouts this winter.
"If you saw the CT scan you would probably be pretty grossed out," Niese said. "The surgeon, he told me basically that a normal nose should be like a doorway, with the door open just a little bit. Mine was like somebody had ripped the door off its hinges and smashed it sideways into the wall."
The genesis of the operation came about last summer, when Beltran offered to purchase a cosmetic rhinoplasty for his teammate. Niese agreed, then realized through his initial meetings with doctors that the operation would have more than just a superficial effect.
"It makes it so much easier for me to breathe," said Niese, who lost 10 pounds over the winter. "Working out, it just seems so much easier for me. I'll continue to watch what I eat and I just all-around feel good."
That's no small issue for a pitcher who has struggled with his weight and conditioning in recent years, posting a 7.11 ERA in September 2010 and missing all of last September with a strained right intercostal muscle. Outside of those issues, Niese has been successful for the Mets, with peripheral stats suggesting a performance better than his 11-11 record and 4.40 ERA in 2011.
Niese's hope is that easier breathing will allow him to do more cardiovascular work during the season, as well, keeping him stronger down the stretch. Over the past two seasons, Niese is 17-12 with a 3.71 ERA prior to August, but 3-9 with a 5.89 ERA in August and September.
As for his deal with Beltran, Niese still expects his former teammate to pay up. The two have not spoken personally since Beltran's trade to the Giants last July, but the left-hander plans to be in contact.
Said Niese: "I'm going to send him the bill."