During Spring Training in 2010, Jenrry Mejia flashed such dominant stuff that the Mets (foolishly) allowed him to open the year in the Major League bullpen. It was unwise to abruptly turn him from starter to reliever to address a pressing need, but it was borderline absurd to do so while having Mejia pitch mostly non-pressurized innings. They interrupted his development for no good reason. That was over two years ago. Now, a few months into his return to the mound after going through and recovering from Tommy John surgery, Mejia again finds himself being yanked back and forth by the organization.
After coming back from surgery earlier this year, Mejia has gone from starter to reliever to starter, as he rehabbed and ascended the ranks back up to Buffalo. Many in the Mets’ organization – Dan Warthen seems to be the strongest voice – project Mejia as a future reliever. They cite his smallish stature, his not so clean delivery, and his two pitch arsenal as reasons. They may be right. Mejia may turn out to be better suited as a reliever. However, his results this year have done nothing to convince anyone that he’s ready to contribute, let alone succeed in a role out of the bullpen.
Since being promoted to Buffalo, Mejia has a 5.48 ERA as a reliever. He’s allowed 27 hits in 21.1 innings pitched, to go along with a .303 BAA. As a starter, Mejia has pitched to an ERA of 1.94, while allowing 37 hits in 46.1 innings pitched. His BAA as a starter is .220. Granted, these are small sample sizes. However, it appears Mejia is far more comfortable as a starter. Terry Collins has intimated that he expects Mejia to be called up when the rosters expand in a few days, and for him to get at least a few starts for the Mets in September. That’s a step in the right direction. And it’s a direction the Mets should allow Mejia to go down until he fails. Mejia’s fastball is a special offering, one with tremendous velocity and movement so unique and wicked it sometimes works against him. His second pitch is a changeup. After that, there’s not much. Still, it would be wise for the Mets to allow Mejia to continue to develop as a starter. He’ll log more innings, build up his arm strength, and be able to work on his other secondary pitches.
Due to the fact that he’s not far removed from Tommy John surgery, what Mejia has displayed in 2012 is likely not the best he has to offer. People seem concerned about his lack of strikeouts, but he’s been a groundball machine. And one would imagine that as he gets back into the swing of things and he gets his full strength back, his stuff will continue to improve and he’ll begin to miss more bats. When examining the Mejia as a starter or reliever debate, it’s quite apparent which way the Mets should go at this point – and that’s before taking into account the state of the starting rotation going into 2013.
On paper, the Mets’ potential 2013 rotation should be a strength. With Dillon Gee having just been given a clean bill of health, you can pencil him in along with R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, and Matt Harvey as members of what should be an above average staff. Johan Santana is an enormous question mark. As much as it pains me to write this, the Mets need to operate as if Johan Santana has thrown his last pitch for the team. I don’t expect that to be the case, but it may turn out to be. Even if Santana is able to regain the form he displayed earlier this season, there’s no way to know when or if he’ll get hurt again. Besides Santana, the other four members of the rotation should be good to go. Unfortunately, as we saw with Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee this year, no pitchers are exempt from suffering sudden or freak injuries. When the Mets’ rotation took hits in 2012, their immediate fill-ins were Miguel Batista and Chris Schwinden; two nice men who happen to be putrid Major League pitchers. In 2013, assuming Santana is healthy, the Mets’ immediate fill-in would be Collin McHugh – an enormous step up from Batista and Schwinden. Behind McHugh, though, lies uncertainty.
Zack Wheeler may be so dominant during Spring Training next year that he forces his way onto the staff. In a likelier scenario, he’ll be sent to AAA for more seasoning before becoming a viable Major League option around June or July. The Mets need someone else on the depth chart behind McHugh, and that person should be Jenrry Mejia. If they want to bring in a Chris Young type as well for even more insurance, all the better. Still, Mejia should be allowed to continue to develop in the role he’s accustomed to. If he succeeds, the Mets will have another tremendous arm ready to contribute to the Major League starting rotation. If he fails, they can simply transition him to the bullpen while telling him he’s there to stay.