PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- For Jon Niese, this spring has entailed two flights to New York, two MRIs and two rather sizable sighs of relief.
"I feel like that piece of paper that you stick up on a dartboard and the guy is throwing the knife at it," Niese said on Tuesday. "Luckily for me, the guy throwing the knife isn't a very good shot."
Niese officially returned to camp on Tuesday after his latest MRI revealed no structural damage in his sore left elbow. He expects to resume throwing off flat ground on Wednesday, though he is no longer a lock to start on Opening Day.
Instead the Mets could push him back as far as April 6, when they will need a fifth starter for the first time. That would allow them to open the season with Niese on the disabled list, clearing space for an extra bench bat or reliever.
Regardless of where Niese slots in the rotation, the important thing for the Mets is that he is healthy. Niese, who missed nearly two months last summer with a partially torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, also sat out earlier this spring with discomfort in his shoulder. There is a chance that his recovery from that ailment placed extra stress on his elbow.
"It's probably from trying to look at the radar gun -- overexertion, just trying to get that extra mile an hour," said Niese, whose velocity was noticeably down after returning from New York the first time. "All of a sudden, mechanically, you go the wrong way one time and it pinches and it's irritated. One thing I'm going to try to stop looking at this spring is the radar gun and just go by feel, because I know if I feel good, the velocity is going to be there."
If Niese does not pitch on Opening Day, either Dillon Gee or Bartolo Colon will take his place.
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.