- Adam Rubin, ESPNNewYork.com
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MIAMI -- First the Mets lost in a battle of aces, when Josh Johnson topped Johan Santana in the series opener. Then Oliver Perez allowed four homers in his farewell to the rotation. Next, John Maine threw 12 straight balls to open Saturday's subpar start. Finally, a four-game sweep at the hands of the Marlins was capped with this: Jonathon Niese walking off the mound during the third inning of a 10-8 defeat Sunday with a right hamstring issue in the same area he had surgery on last season.
Niese, who tore the hamstring tendon off the bone at Citi Field last Aug. 5 and collapsed on the mound, this time felt sore in that area while fielding a third-inning bunt by Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez. On his next pitch, while delivering a curveball to slugger Hanley Ramirez, Niese felt "a scary, sharp pain."
Fully aware that he originally injured himself stretching at first base last August, then completely tore the hamstring tendon while throwing a subsequent practice pitch, Niese motioned for the trainers and, after a brief conversation, walked off the field without any more exertion.
He has initially been diagnosed with a right proximal hamstring injury. While that would appear to disqualify him from Friday's start against the Yankees at Citi Field -- with the Mets' emphasis on "prevention and recovery" this year -- neither Niese nor team officials were certain he would miss the outing.
Niese planned to accompany the Mets to Atlanta, then fly to New York to be examined Monday by team doctors. The hope is that Niese merely experienced scar-tissue breakup from last summer's surgery, and that there is nothing actually wrong.
"That bunt play with Sanchez, right before I got the ball, I landed on my right leg pretty hard, and it felt a little sore," Niese said. "Then, the first pitch to Hanley, I felt like a little, sharp pain where that happened last year and my leg kind of buckled when I pitched. It was kind of scary. I didn't want to chance it."
Manager Jerry Manuel described the injury as an "aggravation" to the area but noted: "When it's close to where he did it last time, you're somewhat concerned. We obviously have to be very, very careful."
Even if Niese does face the Yankees on Friday, the Mets' rotation plans have been disrupted by his departure in the third inning.
The Mets planned to start Hisanori Takahashi in Washington on Wednesday after reassigning Perez to the bullpen. But Takahashi was pressed into three innings of relief duty Sunday after Niese's abrupt departure, disqualifying him from starting duty against the Nationals. That means Takahashi now becomes the replacement for Niese on Friday against the Yankees, if Niese is unable to make his start.
"I don't want to miss a start," Niese said. "I'll do whatever I can. With that being said, I have to listen to the doctors."
So what about Wednesday's starter?
That needed to be discussed on the flight to Atlanta -- a trip GM Omar Minaya added to his itinerary while watching the Mets lose four straight games at Sun Life Stadium.
The early discussion centered on using left-hander Raul Valdes (1-0, 2.25 ERA in 13 relief appearances) for the spot start against the Nationals and calling up a reliever from the minors to back him up.
Maine volunteered to move up his start from Thursday to Wednesday, but that would not accomplish much.
If the Mets go to Triple-A Buffalo for a starter, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (4-2, 2.23 ERA) is on proper rest and pitching well, suggesting he's a leading candidate. Pat Misch (3-0, 3.30) tossed a 91-pitch shutout Saturday, but that actually could make him less attractive because it would require using him on short rest Wednesday. Younger options Dillon Gee (3-1, 4.39) and Tobi Stoner (2-4, 5.00) are due to pitch for the Bisons on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, so if either were scratched, that would provide an indication he would be the likely choice.
One thing is certain, though: Faced with the prospect of losing Niese from the rotation, Manuel does not intend to give Perez another chance by letting him take what would have been his regular turn in Washington.
"I don't see us going in that direction once we have decided to put a guy in the bullpen," Manuel said. "No, I don't see that being an option right now."