PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It may be "by default," as Dillon Gee put it, but it is an honor nonetheless.
The Mets on Monday officially named Gee their Opening Day starter, with Jon Niese set to begin the season on the disabled list. Gee will pitch March 31 at Citi Field against Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals, becoming the 23rd Mets pitcher and eighth homegrown arm to receive an Opening Day start.
"It's a big honor obviously for them to trust me with that day and give that to me," Gee said. "I'm very thankful for that opportunity. Really, I've just got to take it like it's any other game. It's just one of 30-something starts that I hope to get this year, but it is a big honor."
Injuries to Matt Harvey and Niese forced the Mets to look to Gee, who recovered from a slow start last season to go 10-5 with a 2.71 ERA over his last 22 outings. The Mets could have given the assignment to Bartolo Colon or Zack Wheeler, but the former is new to the organization and the latter has limited big league experience -- not to mention an innings limit that even one extra start could affect.
Given all that, and given Gee's strong spring -- he is 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in three starts -- the choice seemed somewhat clear. Throw in his 3.04 ERA in 12 career starts against the Nationals and it became obvious. Manager Terry Collins approached Gee in the weight room on Monday to deliver the news, though he had already been receiving congratulations from well-wishers for days.
"I guess I can tell them thank you instead of being like, 'I don't know,'" Gee said, laughing. "It's a big honor and I'm very glad to get that and it's a big step in my career, something to say I did, but my job is just to go out there and win games."
Niese, who would have been the Opening Day starter if healthy, is instead scheduled to debut April 6 against the Reds.