PHOENIX -- Rather than demote an outfielder to clear roster space for Jon Niese to come off the disabled list, the Mets on Sunday optioned right-hander Jeremy Hefner to Triple-A Las Vegas. Hefner will be examined in New York next week for a possible elbow injury, which could land him on the DL.
Hefner said he has been experiencing right elbow pain all season, but that it has worsened in recent weeks. After posting a 1.76 ERA in his final eight starts before the All-Star break, Hefner has since gone 0-2 with a 9.13 ERA in five starts.
"I'm hurting the team right now," Hefner said. "I don't need to try to be a hero."
Optioning Hefner means the Mets will no longer proceed as planned with a six-man rotation, which could affect young starters Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. The Mets had hoped to use a six-man rotation long enough to keep Harvey and Wheeler on the field through September, despite innings limits for both of them.
Instead, the Mets will look to use several upcoming off-days to their advantage in limiting Harvey and Wheeler. Hefner, meanwhile, could be back as soon as September depending on the results of his examination.
"Obviously this isn't fun," he said. "I've never been on the DL in the Minor Leagues or anything, I never had arm problems. So this is all new to me."
As recently as Saturday, Mets manager Terry Collins indicated that the team would option an outfielder to Triple-A to make room for Niese, who returned from the DL to start Sunday's series finale against the D-backs. But rather than proceed with a short bench for the immediate future, the Mets will go with a five-man rotation.
The results of Hefner's examination will determine how soon he can reinsert himself into those plans.
"He's been a little 'ouchy' over the last 10 days, couple of weeks," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "I'd rather not get too specific until the doctors have taken a look."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.