PHOENIX -- Before Matt Harvey broke out this summer to become the Mets' ace, Jon Niese served as the team's Opening Day starter.
For Niese, Sunday might as well be Opening Day No. 2. The left-hander will return from the disabled list to start his club's series finale against the D-backs, kicking off what he hopes will be a strong run to finish this season.
"I think it's important for Jon Niese mentally to know that his arm's OK," manager Terry Collins said. "So if he finishes strong, he knows he'll be fine with the rest over the winter time, and he'll come into Spring Training ready to go."
On the disabled list since June 21 with a partial tear of his left rotator cuff, Niese has since admitted to pitching through discomfort for weeks before that date. He does not regret it -- Niese believes his rotator cuff would have torn regardless of whether he pitched through pain. But he was not sure he would be able to make it back this soon.
"It actually ran a lot smoother than I thought it was going to," said Niese, who will be limited to around 95 pitches Sunday. "When the doctor tells you that you have a tear, it's kind of scary. You don't think that you're going to be back in the time that you hope for. Luckily, it went smooth and I was able to get back at a pretty rapid pace."
To make room for Niese, the Mets will option a position player to the Minors, returning to a six-man rotation and a four-man bench. The obvious candidates are outfielders Andrew Brown and Mike Baxter, with Brown perhaps more at risk because Baxter is the only left-handed bat on the bench.