PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- With Johan Santana "extremely likely" to open the season on the disabled list, according to general manager Sandy Alderson, the Mets officially moved forward Thursday with their contingency plan.
Left-hander Jon Niese will start Opening Day at Citi Field in place of Santana, taking the mound for the first Opening Day assignment of his career.
"I'm real excited, obviously, for getting this opportunity," Niese said. "I want to thank the Mets for putting the trust in me to have this opportunity. But I'm going to treat it as any other start."
With Santana unavailable, Niese was the obvious choice after posting career bests in nearly every major statistical category last year. In his first season since signing a long-term contract extension, Niese struck out 155 batters with a 3.40 ERA in a career-high 190 1/3 innings.
Earlier this spring, manager Terry Collins mentioned Niese as a potential workhorse for the staff, challenging him to eclipse 200 innings for the first time in his career. Niese has since enjoyed the best Spring Training of any Mets starter, posting a 0.71 ERA in Grapefruit League play.
Though the team has yet to announce the rest of its Opening Day rotation, indications are that Shaun Marcum, Matt Harvey, Dillon Gee and Jeremy Hefner will follow Niese, in that order.
"I thought after last season, especially at the end of last season, Jon Niese stepped forward to be the pitcher everyone expected him to be," Collins said. "He's had a very, very good spring. We feel very, very confident that he's the right guy to start this off."