MIAMI -- Once feared lost for the season, left-hander Jon Niese is now targeting mid-August for his return from a partially torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder.
Niese, who drove down from Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Monday to visit his Mets teammates, plans to make his next rehab start Thursday for Class A St. Lucie, then another start five days after that. If all goes well, he hopes to rejoin the Mets one rotation turn later -- in theory, the week of Aug. 11.
"It feels great right now," Niese said of his shoulder.
Though neither Niese nor the Mets were willing to speculate on his recovery timetable at the time of his injury, the silent acknowledgement was that shoulder woes can often be serious. But after Niese rested for two weeks, a follow-up MRI revealed that the inflammation surrounding his shoulder tear had disappeared. That was enough for Niese to begin rehabbing last week in Port St. Lucie.
Niese acknowledges now that he spent most of April and May pitching through increasing levels of discomfort and pain, which he first experienced in the frigid mid-April temperatures of Denver and Minneapolis. Beginning with his starts in those cities, he went 2-6 with a 4.76 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 29 walks before the Mets placed him on the disabled list in late June.
"I felt healthy at the beginning of the season," Niese said. "I think it was after the Colorado and Minnesota series, being in that cold, after that it was just a struggle to heal in between starts. It was just a battle just to feel good. I didn't feel like I had my dominating stuff. I just felt like each outing was a grind. Eventually it got painful, so I just told myself I had to stop."
Valdespin raking at Triple-A, but callup not imminent
MIAMI -- Jordany Valdespin may have opened eyes at Triple-A Las Vegas by winning Pacific Coast League Player of the Week honors, but that doesn't mean the controversial infielder will return to Flushing anytime soon.
"I know he's hitting good," Mets manager Terry Collins said of Valdespin, who earned his award by hitting .550 last week with three doubles, one triple, one home run, six walks and 10 RBIs. "There's no real formula for when he may be back or what he has to do to get back. He's doing exactly what he's supposed to do, and that's play as well as he can play."
To even consider recalling Valdespin from Las Vegas, the Mets would have to extend their bench back to five players -- something they are unwilling to do right now. A five-man bench would force the Mets either to play short in the bullpen or stop experimenting with a six-man rotation, which they are using to dampen the innings totals of young pitchers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.
"In our situation, where we're looking at trying to maintain a six-man rotation, it's about the health of Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler," Collins said. "So [Valdespin] might have to ride it out [in the Minors] for a little while."
Though the Mets do not currently have a left-handed bat on their bench, Collins noted that each of his four extra players offers something important. Anthony Recker is the backup catcher and is not going anywhere. Justin Turner is a Swiss Army knife for Collins, capable of playing five different positions. Andrew Brown is the only natural outfielder the Mets have in reserve. And though Josh Satin is not as instrumental from a defensive standpoint, he piqued the Mets' curiosity earlier this month with his hot streak at the plate.
Perhaps the factor working most aggressively against Valdespin, however, is that he left the Mets on such bad terms, throwing a clubhouse tantrum prior to his departure. Collins said at the time that Valdespin's greatest mistake was doing so in front of general manager Sandy Alderson, who holds the final say on any roster moves.
Also off New York's radar is former starting shortstop Ruben Tejada, who is batting .378 over his last 10 games for Las Vegas and .337 overall. Collins said that Tejada may have to wait until September for a callup.
• Outfielder Lucas Duda joined Class A St. Lucie on Monday in his continued rehab from a strained left intercostal muscle. Duda was hitless over 13 at-bats for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast Mets.
• Pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard won Eastern League Player of the Week honors after going 2-0 last week with a 2.45 ERA, 15 strikeouts and one walk for Double-A Binghamton.