Rising star Mejia's changing Mets' thinking
Rookie's next outing may be four-inning stint in three days
JUPITER, Fla. -- For all but a few players toiling in Florida and Arizona, March baseball is about preparation. The only numbers that matter for most players are measured in innings pitched or at-bats. Prepare for 162, don't sweat the 30-35 games staged in the sun. That axiom doesn't apply so much at Mets camp these days when auditions are staged on an almost daily basis.
One clear-cut exception involves young Jenrry Mejia, whose baseball Q rating increases almost daily, whether or not he pitches. He did pitch on Monday -- three scoreless innings -- against the Marlins, and when he was done with his second exhibition-game appearance, numbers seemed to matter more than usual. Jerry Manuel noted that Mejia wears uniform No. 74 and that Francisco Rodriguez wears No. 75.
"They may follow each other down there," the manager said.
That piece of numerology was Manuel's latest none-too-subtle plea for his superiors to consider Mejia a candidate for early-season duty in the big leagues. The public fantasizing came after Mejia had shut down a big league-esque batting order in the Mets' 11-2 victory against the Marlins and on the same day the club had made it clear that Kelvim Escobar has been eliminated from consideration as the eighth-inning bridge to Rodriguez.
Manuel played it wisely; he reiterated he has no intention of assigning the eighth to Mejia in the unlikely event he can persuade the decision-makers to allow the 20-year-old to begin the season on the 25-man roster. But he didn't alter his thinking about Mejia's readiness either.
"It's the stuff at this stage," Manuel said explaining the appeal of Mejia.
But Manuel has already gushed about the rookie's command and noted his poise as well.
Moreover, the manager challenged his "please don't call him a phenom" by making sure Mejia faced Hanley Ramirez (a well-struck fly ball) and Dan Uggla (a groundout).
"If you have stuff and command, you can pitch anywhere and against anyone," Davey Johnson said on Saturday before the Mets played the Nationals.
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The former Mets manager was speaking in terms of Dwight Gooden and a Spring Training of 26 years past. But the concept seemingly would apply to Mejia, too. Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen has made similar pronouncements though not regarding Mejia necessarily.
Mejia faced 11 batters on Monday. The first one, Brett Hayes, singled off his right hand; no damage. Brad Davis singled in the seventh, and that was it other than the runner who reached on the fourth error in six games by Ike Davis. Mejia has allowed two hits and no walks and struck out five in 5 1/3 innings.
"I felt pretty good," Mejia said with some assistance from Angel Pagan.
Mejia said his cutting fastball was his most effective pitch, but that, on occasion, his changeup is his best pitch. What else could be expected from a pitcher from the Dominican Republic who has visited Pedro Martinez at his home? What else could be expected from a pitcher who was urged to wear No. 45 last season in Class A?
"Tim Teufel [Mejia's manager last year] told me I had to wear it," the righty said.
He didn't resist.
Manuel said he has no specific plans for Mejia, yet the schedule for Mejia is to pitch four innings -- in what role Manuel didn't specify -- in three days. That would suggest Mejia is being stretched out or prepared to start. But his subsequent appearance is likely to be more telling. Will he be scheduled for five innings or two?
"We'll have to have a meeting about that," Manuel said slyly.
By then, the manager will have had more time to campaign and to determine how great a need is likely to exist in the bullpen.
"I can pitch anywhere," Mejia said.
But Mejia did express a preference for starting.
"With stuff like that, he can pitch anywhere," catcher Rod Barajas said. "Age-wise, he's the best I've seen."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.