Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Next Step

It's pretty easy to have overlooked Jenrry Mejia at the beginning of the season. Over his career, he's gone from a miscast and underutilized reliever to a failed spot starter to reconstructive elbow surgery to minor league inconsistency to generally being a forgotten man among the flashier names on the Mets pitching staff. That's not so much a knock on him as much as it's just the hand he'd been dealt. Since he debuted in 2010 as a 20-year old, he'd made all of 11 starts in the Major Leagues, the proud owner of 2 Major League victories.

Those of us in the know, however, know that Mejia always had the stuff to succeed in the Major Leagues. Jerry Manuel's asinine experiment to use him as a relief pitcher in his rookie season ultimately set him back 3 seasons, because one year was wasted with him working out of the bullpen and not developing his secondary pitches, a second year was wasted because of the Tommy John surgery he ended up receiving, probably as a result of his misuse, and then a third year recovering and getting himself back into form. It wasn't until he resurfaced in the middle of last season that we got a glimpse of his potential.

Still, there seemed to be a general reluctance to give Mejia the credit he was due; throughout Spring Training, he was stuck in a 3-way battle for the 5th spot in the rotation that he probably shouldn't have been in at all, considering his competition consisted of John Lannan and Daisuke Matsuzaka, both pitchers he was clearly better than, in spite of his lack of experience. The Dog and Pony show that was this battle somehow wasn't decided until the weekend before the season opened. Perhaps, this was by design, a ruse cooked up by Terry Collins and company to motivate his young pitcher.

Whatever it was, something was done right, because in case you haven't noticed, Jenrry Mejia has been the best pitcher the Mets have thrown out there so far this season. He pitched admirably well in his opening start against Cincinnati in spite of bad weather that affected his control. Though he regressed slightly in Atlanta, he's followed that up with a pair of outstanding efforts against Arizona last week, and another last night against the nauseating St. Louis Cardinals and their "professionals." If you were going to discount Mejia's start against Arizona because he left with a blister issue after 5 innings, you have to give him credit for keeping the Cardinals off balance and off the scoreboard into the 7th inning on Monday night, because it was truly a thing of beauty. After relying primarily on his fastball in his last couple of starts, Mejia mixed it up a bit more last night, baffling Cardinal hitters with a mixture of curveballs and change-ups that resulted in little more than 4 hits and 7 strikeouts. Though the offense didn't provide him much backing—just two runs courtesy of David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud RBIs and a ballsy steal of 3rd Base by Daniel Murphy—the 2 runs was enough to net Mejia his 3rd win of the season, or, more appropriately, one more than he had in his entire career going into this season.

Jenrry Mejia still may not get too much credit, even after his strong outing against the defending NL Champions. And who knows what this will lead to, but I'm of the belief that before too long, people are going to start taking notice of Mejia. He's not a flashy superstar-type like Matt Harvey and he's not a phenom like Zack Wheeler, and he's not a towering monstrosity like Noah Syndergaard. What he is is one of those little Pedro Martinez-type guys who get overlooked and fly under the radar until out of nowhere, they're blowing up. That's what I think Jenrry Mejia has in store. Whenever this fabled Mets resurgence comes to pass, Mejia is going to be a key player in it. You can take that to wherever you take such bold predictions.

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