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02/20/12 3:20 PM EST

Niese literally breathing easier this spring

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- What began as a simple jab from a veteran turned into an offseason operation for Jon Niese, resulting in better conditioning and -- he hopes -- ultimately some better performances on the mound.

At the behest of former teammate Carlos Beltran, Niese underwent rhinoplasty reconstruction surgery in October, allowing him to breathe normally for the first time in his career and increase the intensity of his cardiovascular workouts this winter.

"If you saw the CT scan you would probably be pretty grossed out," Niese said. "The surgeon, he told me basically that a normal nose should be like a doorway, with the door open just a little bit. Mine was like somebody had ripped the door off its hinges and smashed it sideways into the wall."

The genesis of the operation came about last summer, when Beltran offered to purchase a cosmetic rhinoplasty for his teammate. Niese agreed, then realized through his initial meetings with doctors that the operation would have more than just a superficial effect.

"It makes it so much easier for me to breathe," said Niese, who lost 10 pounds over the winter. "Working out, it just seems so much easier for me. I'll continue to watch what I eat and I just all-around feel good."

That's no small issue for a pitcher who has struggled with his weight and conditioning in recent years, posting a 7.11 ERA in September 2010 and missing all of last September with a strained right intercostal muscle. Outside of those issues, Niese has been successful for the Mets, with peripheral stats suggesting a performance better than his 11-11 record and 4.40 ERA in 2011.

Niese's hope is that easier breathing will allow him to do more cardiovascular work during the season, as well, keeping him stronger down the stretch. Over the past two seasons, Niese is 17-12 with a 3.71 ERA prior to August, but 3-9 with a 5.89 ERA in August and September.

As for his deal with Beltran, Niese still expects his former teammate to pay up. The two have not spoken personally since Beltran's trade to the Giants last July, but the left-hander plans to be in contact.

Said Niese: "I'm going to send him the bill."

Mejia anxious to start working way to Majors

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Though Jenrry Mejia believes he is healthy enough to compete for a big league roster spot right now, the young right-hander is still several steps away from even considering a jump back to live competition.

Nine months removed from Tommy John surgery, Mejia has thrown off flat ground just twice this spring, and has not yet attempted to throw off a mound. The Mets are moving cautiously with a pitcher who, as recently as last spring, ranked among the organization's top overall prospects.

"I know I can't make the big league team right now because I'm coming off Tommy John," Mejia said after reporting to camp on Monday. "But I have to be ready for it."

In the interim, Mejia has fallen behind the power trio of Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia and Zack Wheeler, all of whom sit perched among the top pitching prospects in baseball. But Mejia still hopes to return to the big leagues at some point this season, even if it is not until late summer.

"I've been working hard for it," Mejia said. "But it's too soon."

Wheeler not feeling pressure of being prospect

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- With such uncertainty swirling around the Mets, many fans have pinned their hopes on the organization's next generation of pitchers. Two of them, Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia, reported to their first big league camp on Monday.

The third, Zack Wheeler, is a year younger than his peers and a year less developed. But he may be the most talented of the bunch, recently ranking an organization-best 28th on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list.

"It might be pressure to some other people, but not me," Wheeler said. "I think not always being good has made me humble and fortunate for what I have right now. I'm just trying to pursue that and do the best I can."

To that end, Wheeler has been working diligently on improving his changeup, which he now considers his second-best pitch. He is a good bet to start off in Double-A this season and a long shot to reach the Majors before 2013. But the Mets are excited about what Wheeler might be able to provide once he does.

"I really don't feel any pressure," he said. "I just go out there and try to do my job, and not really worry about what people say."

Dickey now Majors' lone knuckleballer

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Baseball's knuckleball fraternity lost half its membership last week, when Tim Wakefield officially retired following a 19-year career. With Wakefield gone, Mets starter R.A. Dickey is the only knuckleballer left in the Major Leagues.

"I'm sad because I want him around," Dickey said after reporting to Mets camp on Monday. "It's fun to be able to watch somebody who does what you do."

Though Dickey throws a significantly harder knuckleball than Wakefield ever did, often pitching somewhere between 80 and 90 mph, he has often leaned on the former Red Sox starter for advice.

"Sometimes, at least in the past, [Wakefield] has leant me some things that I needed to see," Dickey said. "Now, I've got to go to the film."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.