Mack and I just got off the phone, and he asked me a seemingly simple question -
"If you are GM Sandy Alderson, do you move Jennry Mejia into a starting role, or do you put him in the bullpen when he is promoted soon?
Well, NOT so simple a question, really, but the answer IS simple- BULLPEN, period. Now for the "why"...
Mejia is just coming back from a year's worth of rehab, after having Tommy John Surgery last May. It's barely more than a year since his operation, and, so far, so good. That doesn't mean he won't have setbacks- in fact, more than likely, he WILL have setbacks and, so as not to discourage him, a bad inning out of the bullpen is far easier to come back from then, say, getting pounded in the first inning as a starter.
In the past, teams like the Baltimore Orioles, under Earl Weaver, built successful pitching staffs by not rushing their prospects into starting roles in the big leagues. Think Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor and Mike Flanagan, to name but three- each started out as a reliever, and each evolved into starters, with various levels of success. The Rangers, recently, under President (and Hall of Fame pitcher) Nolan Ryan's leadership, began top prospect Neftali Feliz's career in the bigs in the bullpen, where he became a dominant closer last season. So far this year, he's had mixed results, as he began as a starter but ran into inflammation problems in his right elbow and won't return to the team for a few more days, but most likely to remain part of the rotation. Therefore, from a position of strengthening Mejia's arm, getting in his innings, and offering him some quick success to build from, the bullpen is the place for him for the rest of the 2012 season.
We've all heard that Mejia is a "two-pitch pitcher" and needs to work on a third pitch to be successful as a big league starter. I can understand the logic, and agree with it, but he's NOT going to develop that pitch in Buffalo, or in the big leagues; he can, and probably will, do so next year in Spring Training, which is the time for experimentation and development. Coming back from surgery, he also is going to be reticent to try anything new right now, as his first and only concern is remaining healthy and not having complications (or at least, nothing less than minor complications), from the Tommy John Surgery. Mejia is also no longer a "prospect" as he's now looked at as a major leaguer, and as we've seen with many ballplayers, their development, while often frustrating (Ike, I'm talking to YOU), happens in the bigs. Therefore, when Mejia is ruled "ready" he will be promoted, "as is" if you will, with 2 pitches and everything else considered to be works in progress. At this point, better for him to log major league innings and get a taste for what is expected of him, moving forward, so that next Spring, he's psyched to learn a new pitch or pitches to add to his repertoire. Also, with Young having just returned from rehab of his own, that leaves no openings in the big league rotation, for now at least, and makes moving Mejia to the bullpen a decision not just of logic but of positional necessity.
Finally, the team itself has a great need for a reliable, hard-throwing reliever who can come in the 6th or 7th inning in either a blow-out (either way- for or against) or in a case where a starter simply lost his gas and offer a great bridge to the back-end of the bullpen. IF Mejia were to remain a reliever, of course, it would be HIM eventually at the end of the pen, as the closer. Currently, the team has both problems getting to the closer and WITH the closer (Rodriguez), so there is ample room for Mejia to make his mark in the pen. The team is currently carrying 2 long relievers/potential 6th starters in Hefner and Batista, to ensure that neither Chris Young or Johan Santana, both coming back from injuries to their shoulders, will have to force anything on days that they either have nothing or are growing tired early in the game. Francisco & Rauch, both signed in the off-season to fill the back-end of the pen, have battled through minor injuries and neither is, at this point, considered "reliable." Tim Byrdak is the sole lefty reliever, and Bobby Parnell and Elvin Ramirez are more of the "Jeckyl & Hyde" variety, possessing amazing potential but not ready or able to be consistent (and Ramirez, apparently may have just been demoted to AA Binghamton, so if that indeed happened or happens after this weekend, that could mean that Mejia will be promoted in his place.) Mejia can look like a "conquering hero" if he can provide any stability whatsoever in the 'pen, and that would be great for the young hurler's confidence, at the very least.
So, back to the answer- BULLPEN for Mejia - in a case of both what's good for the player AND what's good for the organization. Pretty rare that it's a good fit for both, but in my opinion, there's no better place for Mejia right now, both for his own development as well as for the big league team's well-being, then the back-end of the bullpen at Citi Field. This week will, hopefully, be the start of Mejia's return...and I, for one, can't wait!! Have a great weekend, and as always...
LET'S GO METS!!!