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Jenrry Mejia, Chris Young and the Fifth Starter Spot

Posted By Howard Megdal On May 15, 2012 @ 11:56 am In Today's Mets headlines | Comments Disabled

For the purposes of this exercise, let’s go ahead and realize that Miguel Batista isn’t likely to succeed in the role as fifth starter. By all means, if he keeps pitching like he did Monday night, keep him there. But even with last night representing more than a quarter of his season, Batista has 16 walks, 17 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings. He’s 41. He hasn’t pitched more than 115 innings since 2007. He isn’t a realistic answer for a rotation spot.

But the Mets sure could use him to pitch, because the two alternatives making their way through the system don’t seem like real answers to me, either.

First is Jenrry Mejia, who had a terrific rehab start in Single-A last night, with six scoreless innings and seven strikeouts. It is wonderful to see Mejia back and pitching, after the mishandling of his 2010 season and Tommy John surgery ending his 2011 campaign.

But now that Mejia is healthy, the very same issues about his work apply: beyond a major league fastball, Mejia still ought to be working on his secondary pitches to determine whether he can be a starter at the major league level. And that work ought to be happening in the minor leagues, so he can make adjustments without worrying nearly as much about results.

I know many people, the Mets’ pitching coach included, have Mejia penciled in as a reliever. And he might ultimately be that. But it would be foolish to assume this ahead of time, given how much more valuable a starter can be. His delivery in unorthodox? Well, so was Fernando Valenzuela’s. So was Luis Tiant’s. So is Tim Lincecum’s. And putting him in the bullpen is no guarantee of protection, either. See Chamberlain, Joba.

Keep Mejia at Triple-A, working in a rotation with Jeurys Familia and Matt Harvey. And promote them when they command multiple pitches consistently, not before.

The other option, Chris Young, is a year removed from shoulder surgery. He made four starts for the Mets in 2011 before breaking down. He made four starts for the Padres in 2010 before breaking down. So thinking he’ll just slot in, and everything will be fine, appears to be wishful thinking in the extreme.

Still, who knows? Chris Capuano hadn’t been healthy for years, then gave the Mets a full season in 2011. Promote Young and hope for the best, especially given the alternatives.

But don’t throw Mejia to the wolves again, just as he’s gotten back to the stage in his development he’d reached in 2010, back before Jerry Manuel’s “daily debate” [1] over his usage. No, really: the Mets used to change the long-term plan for a top prospect on the daily whims of the manager. Ah, memories.

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[1] “daily debate”: http://www.metsblog.com/2010/05/26/pre-game-jerry-manuel-on-nieve-for-sat-niese-etc/

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