Dillon Gee to start Mets' opener

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Right-hander Dillon Gee formally has been named the New York Mets' Opening Day starter. He will start March 31 opposite Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg at Citi Field.

Manager Terry Collins informed Gee in the weight room before Monday's 5-3 Grapefruit League win against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Gee, 27, will become the 23rd pitcher to start on Opening Day for the Mets, and the eighth homegrown pitcher, joining Dwight Gooden, Bobby Jones, Jerry Koosman, Jonathon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, Tom Seaver and Craig Swan.

"It's a big honor, obviously, for them to trust me with that day and give that to me," Gee said. "I'm very thankful for that opportunity."

Niese would have been the Opening Day starter for the second straight year but instead will open the season on the disabled list.

The southpaw received a cortisone injection last Monday to address elbow inflammation. The Mets expect Niese to return from the disabled list for an April 6 start against the Cincinnati Reds. Niese threw off a mound Monday for the first time since the injection and reported no ill effects.

"It's kind of by default, too," Gee acknowledged about his Opening Day start. "Jon Niese had a few setbacks, so he can't make Opening Day and I get it."

Gee has been dominant during spring training. Including a "B" game against primarily Miami Marlins minor leaguers, Gee has allowed only one run and 16 hits while striking out 12 without a walk in 14 2/3 exhibition innings.

The honor comes less than 18 months after Gee faced a scary injury that ended his 2012 season. Gee had a clot in his right shoulder that nearly fully blocked blood flow to his pitching arm. He underwent emergency surgery during the All-Star break and did not return the remainder of that season.

He started last year with a 6.34 ERA in his first 10 regular-season starts and was in danger of getting bounced from the rotation. But beginning with a dominant May 30 start against the Yankees, Gee went 9-5 with a 2.79 ERA in 21 starts the remainder of the season. That was the fifth-best ERA in the National League during that span, trailing only Jose Fernandez (1.50), Clayton Kershaw (1.91), Zack Greinke (2.35) and Madison Bumgarner (2.57).

"He had one of the best second halves in baseball last year, so it doesn't surprise me," captain David Wright said about Gee being named to the March 31 start. "He deserves it. The way he finished up last year, it's well deserved. I'm extremely happy for Dillon.

"The whole Opening Day starter thing, you can think what you want, but it's a tremendous honor and well deserved -- especially with being a start away from who knows what and then throwing the way he did against the Yankees and finishing up, like I said, one of the most productive pitchers in the game."

Said Gee: "I don't really think about where I've come from in the last year. I just kind of keep going forward."