Had it not been for left elbow inflammation during Spring Training, left-hander Jon Niese might have been the Mets' Opening Day starter. With his issues seemingly behind him now, Niese will be activated from the disabled list to make his 2014 debut as New York goes for the sweep in Sunday's series finale vs. the Reds.
"It's good," Niese said. "I'm working on all my pitches to both sides of the plate. I'm pretty excited about Sunday. I'm just going to let loose. I'll trust what I've been working on and attack hitters."
Mets manager Terry Collins and his staff will keep an eye on Niese to spot any trouble. The lefty also experienced some shoulder soreness in camp that forced him to miss time, and he spent two months on the DL last season with a partially torn rotator cuff.
Niese, who threw in a bullpen session without pain on Thursday, has not pitched since a March 16 spring game vs. the Cardinals.
"Due to the issues that he had, obviously a lot of it is going to be arm slot -- is he dropping, does it look like he's straining, does it look like he's getting stiff?" Collins said. "It's supposed to be a nice day, so that's going to help out, where hopefully we don't have any real long innings where you worry about him getting tightened up at all.
"But he threw the ball very good the other day. He says he feels absolutely great. He's at that 90-, 95-pitch mark. He probably won't go much over that."
The Reds will counter with Alfredo Simon, who will be making his season debut as well. Simon, a reliever for Cincinnati the past two seasons, is in the rotation as the fifth starter because Mat Latos began the year on the DL.
Because of circumstances not related to health issues, there has been an extended layoff for Simon. He last pitched on March 24.
"I wished there hadn't been such an extended break between outings," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We were going to use him for an inning or two in Louisville [during an exhibition]. Of course, that game was shortened due to weather."
Simon started camp strong but struggled in the latter end. He was tagged for 15 runs and 24 hits over his last four starts, totaling 18 1/3 innings. But he was stretched out to 90 pitches and has Price's confidence.
"He had a good spring," Price said. "You can't evaluate completely by numbers in Arizona. We're more than confident with him starting -- short term or long term. I think he will do a fine job."
Mets: d'Arnaud working to find his stroke
Catcher Travis d'Arnaud will be back in the starting lineup Sunday after a routine day of rest.
It has been a tough start to the season for d'Arnaud, who appeared to be finding his batting stoke toward the end of Spring Training. Yet d'Arnaud opened the regular season 0-for-12 with six strikeouts, after batting .202 with a .548 OPS in his 31-game big league debut last season.
Collins said he is worried about the confidence of the club's No. 2 prospect given his early lack of success.
"It certainly is a concern if it starts to get in his head that he can't hit at this level," Collins said. "That's your biggest fear is that, all of a sudden, someone feels they can't do something. But Travis has always hit. He believes he can hit. He has great confidence in himself. He's just got to stay with it."
Reds: Phillips likes Flushing
Including Saturday's two-run home run in the eighth inning before the Reds fell, 6-3, in the ninth, second baseman Brandon Phillips has hit safely in all 28 road games he's played vs. the Mets.
Phillips is batting .295 (23-for-78) lifetime at Citi Field, with hits in all 18 games at the Mets' current home. He has the second-longest hitting streak vs. the Mets, with Luis Castillo hitting safely in 32 straight games from 2001-05. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Phillips' streak is the longest current road hitting streak by any active player against any team.
• With an 0-for-4 game on Saturday, Reds shortstop Zack Cozart is on an 0-for-15 start to his 2014 season.
• Mets outfielder Eric Young Jr. snapped an 0-for-15 streak to begin his season with a seventh-inning infield hit past the mound.
• Before Saturday's loss, the first four of the Reds' games this season have been decided by one run -- five would have set a franchise record. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cincinnati also began the 1924 and '43 seasons with four one-run games.