Before delving into the meat of this article, allow me to add this disclaimer: One start does not a season (or career) make, the Nationals are struggling at the plate, and I’m not getting my hopes up. Now…
Jenrry Mejia‘s start against Washington today was eye opening. The 23 year old from the Dominican Republic tossed 7 scoreless innings – and he didn’t do it with mirrors. Over his 7 innings of work, Mejia allowed 7 hits (a few dribblers included), walked none, and struck out 7. He threw 97 pitches (66 strikes).
His line was spectacular, but the way Mejia looked was just as impressive. His mound presence was fantastic, he worked at a rapid pace (even with runners on base), and was in complete control from the outset. In the early innings, I wondered if the other shoe would drop. However, once he got into the middle innings, my confidence in Mejia began to soar. With all of his pitches working, Mejia made the Nationals look foolish, and gave Mets fans a glimpse of the immense potential he has.
Before Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Noah Syndergaard, the hot-shot Mets pitching prospect was Jenrry Mejia. He was signed by the Mets as an amateur free agent in 2007 and rapidly worked his way through the system while working as a starter. Foolishly, the front office allowed then manager Jerry Manuel to carry Mejia as a reliever to open the 2010 campaign.
Using Mejia out of the pen stunted his development, and Manuel used him sporadically – making the decision even more ridiculous. Mejia was eventually sent back down to the minors, and lost nearly all of the 2011 season (he tossed 28.1 innings) after undergoing Tommy John surgery. In 2012, the Mets continued to yank him back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation, and he started a few games late in the season for the big club, going 1-2 with a 5.63 ERA in 16 innings pitched.
This season, Mejia missed the first few months with right forearm tightness (he’ll have minor surgery after the season to remove bone chips from his elbow). After being cleared to pitch, Mejia was solid in a few rehab starts for the GCL Mets and tremendous in two starts for Binghamton. When it came time for the Mets to decide who would get today’s spot start, Mejia seemed like the logical choice. And he’s the option they chose.
Before today, Mejia was an enigma who was partly a victim of his organization’s indecisiveness, and partly a victim of injuries that temporarily derailed him. After today, Mejia should again be viewed as potentially being a huge piece of the Mets’ future. His talent was never in question – it was his ability to harness it that was the issue. Today, Mejia showed what he looks like when his talent is harnessed.
Mejia’s fastball with its natural cutting action was sizzling this afternoon – he sat at 94 MPH with the heater and touched 95. More importantly, his secondary stuff looked great. He flashed a developing changeup, broke off a number of filthy curveballs, and at one point (according to Marc Carig), had generated 11 swings and misses on the 21 sliders he had thrown. Simply put, today was a clinic hosted by Jenrry Mejia.
In the short term, the decision should be easy: Mejia stays with the Mets, and he stays in the starting rotation. Whether that means moving Carlos Torres back to the bullpen (a logical choice) or going to a six man rotation (something that some of the other starters may not be a huge fan of), Mejia needs to get more starts.
For the long term, the Mets may still view Mejia as a bullpen piece. It’s always been believed that his smallish stature would lead to him eventually winding up in the pen. If he winds up there as a shutdown late inning reliever, so be it.
Today’s performance, though, gives the Mets and their fans a reason to dream. The Mets already have Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler in the starting rotation, and Noah Syndergaard will likely join them during the second half of the 2014 campaign. Jonathon Niese is on the comeback trail, and should be back within weeks. If, and it’s a big if, Jenrry Mejia has finally put it all together and is able to stick as a starter, his presence in the rotation could give the Mets a starting five by the middle of 2014 that’s almost too good to be true.