KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Manager Terry Collins said that he will announce his Opening Day starter "in the next couple of days," making official what has already been apparent for at least a week.
Because Johan Santana has not thrown off a mound since mid-February, left-hander Jon Niese will earn his first career Opening Day assignment. The Mets had no other obvious candidates, with Matt Harvey yet to pitch a full season in the big leagues and Shaun Marcum and Dillon Gee both coming off injury-shortened seasons.
Niese, by contrast, is fresh off his best year as a big leaguer, having set career bests in victories (13), innings (190 1/3), strikeouts (155) and ERA (3.40). He also posted the best walk rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career.
"It'd be great," Niese said when asked last week about the potential assignment. "It would be an honor. It's great that the Mets have put their trust in me."
The Mets still have no timetable for the return of Santana, who has been extending the distance of his long-toss program in Port St. Lucie, but there are simply not enough days left for him to prepare for Opening Day.
"His arm still feels better, so he's continuing to back up," Collins said. "As his throwing program gets better, he increases his distance, and he gets closer to the mound."