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mets countdown

Mets Countdown: No. 18, Jon Niese

The start of the baseball season is less than a month away. Every weekday until opening day, we'll be counting down, from No. 20 to No. 1, the most important Mets players for the upcoming 2010 slate. Today, No. 18, starting pitcher Jon Niese.

Before you say anything about Jon Niese, you must dispatch with the single most important fact about him: He was born on October 26 27, 1986 ... the day the Mets last won the World Series. This is a well-known fact but still bears repeating as often as possible. Anytime the Mets feel bad about themselves, remember that a human born on the day the Cubs last won the World Series is almost certainly dead. At least the Mets won recent enough that the newborn could now be in the rotation.

Niese pitched well last year, particularly in July and August, before going down with (get this!) an injury in August. (The injury was a torn hamstring, a serious one, but better than shoulder issues.) He has a low-90s fastball, which basically sets up his killer curveball, one of those molasses slow yakkers that inevitably make batters look silly. Niese is in the mix for the fifth-starter slot, battling with Fernando Nieve, and if he continues to pitch like he did in his spring debut Friday, he'll end up having it. He has shown no lingering effects from the injury, even though it forced doctors to keep him off the mound until a couple of months ago.

Niese is the type of young, tall, lanky left-hander any team would want as their fourth or fifth starter. The Mets don't have a future star on their hands — Niese's upside is "sturdy and dependable" — but they have a lifetime fourth or fifth starter, which has legitimate, lasting value if his health holds up. Niese can start that clock right now: If he wins the fifth starting job this spring and throws, say, 150 innings ... the Mets will be ecstatic, regardless of his birthday.

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Photo: Doug Benc/Getty Images