PHOENIX -- With Logan Verrett having flopped as Matt Harvey's rotation replacement and Zack Wheeler seemingly unlikely to pitch in the majors this season due to the latest setback in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, the New York Mets are placing a familiar face back in the rotation.
Jonathon Niese, who was reacquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 1 in a swap for fellow left-hander Antonio Bastardo, will start Wednesday's series finale against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
Niese went 7-6 with a 5.13 ERA in 18 starts for the Pirates this season. He was reassigned to the bullpen after a July 10 outing during which he was knocked out in the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs. The Mets initially used Niese out of the bullpen after bringing him back.
The assignment against the Diamondbacks will be Niese's 178th career start with the Mets -- the 10th most in franchise history.
"It was a horrible feeling being bumped from the rotation, but I feel like I'm in a good spot now," said Niese, reflecting on his Pirates performance. "I'm definitely a lot more comfortable in the rotation -- being able to get a set routine in between pitching. I think it will progressively get better from here."
Niese's last relief appearance with the Mets went poorly. He allowed six runs on three hits and three walks in the sixth inning against the Diamondbacks in relief of Noah Syndergaard last Thursday at Citi Field. Niese was dealing with a cranky left knee that day.
Still, with Verrett having produced an 0-3 record and 7.18 ERA in seven starts since taking over for Harvey, manager Terry Collins decided to turn to Niese -- provided the southpaw's balky knee calmed.
The hope had been that Wheeler would return from Tommy John surgery by now, but he may not return this season after experiencing elbow discomfort in his first rehab appearance. Wheeler is due to be examined by Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday.
Niese indicated that his knee issue is controllable and felt fine during a bullpen session leading into Wednesday's start. He described it as "a little bit of tendinitis, a little bit of arthritis" in the knee of his push-off leg.
"I've had this same thing since the middle of last year," Niese said. "Obviously it wasn't an issue last year. It really is not an issue this year. I just have to manage it right. It just seemed like every time I went into the bullpen it flared up more frequently."
The Mets signed Niese to a five-year, $25.5 million extension on the eve of the season in 2012. That contract included team options at $10 million for next season and $11 million for 2018.
Barring something dramatic, it would seem likely the Mets would hand Niese a $500,000 buyout after this season and make him a free agent. Regardless, Niese indicated he is happy to be back with the club that originally drafted him in the seventh round in 2005 out of high school in his native Defiance, Ohio.
He never expected a reunion after getting traded to the Pirates last December for second baseman Neil Walker.
"When I first read about it, I was kind of shocked," Niese said about rumblings of being reacquired by the Mets. "At the same time, I know here. I know New York. I'm comfortable. I've had success here. So I can see where they're coming from, too."
Niese already had signed a lease on a Manhattan apartment for 2016 when he was traded away by the Mets last December. Walker ended up subletting the apartment. When Niese was traded back to the Mets, he decided to leave Walker uninterrupted in the apartment. Niese instead is staying at a hotel when the Mets are playing in New York for the remainder of the season.
"It's a little bit easier that way," Niese said. "It's tough to find a short-term lease in the city."
Niese's brief tenure with the Pirates did include some drama. With Niese still with that club in mid-July, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told a Pittsburgh radio station regarding the Niese-for-Walker swap: "In hindsight, maybe the two fringe prospects and trying to figure out where to reallocate the money might have been a better return. ... Given the thinness of the starting pitching market, given the dollars that we had available, we felt that that was our best return, and it has not played out that way."
Niese took the high road this week when asked to reflect on what his boss at the time had pointedly said on the airwaves.
"Whether it was professional or not, I don't know," Niese said. "I guess that could be left up to interpretation. It is what it is. I didn't go there and pitch very well, or the best that I could have. For that, I understand where he was coming from. I don't think he intended for it to be malicious. I think he just answered a question. Being in the positions we are -- professionals, and having to deal with the media -- stuff like that slips out. I talked to him about it. He did apologize.
"For me, I really don't take offense too much."