Fans are excited about the New York Mets pitching staff. The first four starters are set: Dillon Gee will get the ball on Opening Day, newly acquired veteran Bartolo Colon has the number two spot, followed by Zack Wheeler and Jon Niese.
The fifth spot in the rotation is still up for grabs and a fierce battle between former Japanese phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka, 33, and former top pitching prospect Jenrry Mejia (pronounced Henry [Meh he a]), 24, has broken out, increasing in intensity over the last week. Both pitchers have looked impressive in their Spring Training outings, but I would prefer Mejia to win the spot.
Mejia was formerly ranked the top pitcher in the Mets minor league system. In Spring Training of 2010, Mejia wowed everyone. The Mets needed some excitement after a disappointing 2009 season and Mejia provided a spark. However, Mejia was completely misused by the team’s manager, Jerry Manuel. The young arm was moved back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen, and also was repeatedly sent between the major and minor leagues. The inconsistency in his use caused a tear in ligament of his elbow, which required surgery. Mejia missed all of the 2011 season because of the injury
At the beginning of last season Mejia was an afterthought, not even considered an option for the fifth starter’s spot. But when Mejia was called up on July 26th, he shined, pitching seven shutout innings against the Washington Nationals. Originally intended to be a spot starter, he was given a permanent place in the rotation. With his first legitimate chance at starting Mejia flourished, posting a 2.30 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP (Walks + Hits over Innings Pitched), albeit in a small sample size of 27 1/3 innings over five games. Mejia was shut down in mid-August after experiencing pain in his elbow from bone chips. His proneness to injury is the only knock against Mejia. There is no denying his talent, but Mejia has yet to complete a full season in the majors.
Back in 2007 the Boston Red Sox signed Daisuke Matsuzaka to a six-year $52 million contract after posting $51 million fee for the right to negotiate with the Japanese star. In his time with Boston, Matsuzaka did not live up to his hype, posting a 4.52 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP. Last year Matsuzaka signed a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians reuniting him with former Red Sox manager Terry Francona. Matsuzaka did not make the Indians major league roster and was eventually released in late August.
Days later Matsuzaka signed with the Mets, making his season debut on August 23rd against the defending American League champions Detroit Tigers. In his first three starts Dice-K was terrible, posting a 10.95 ERA and a 2.11 WHIP failing to make it past the fifth inning in all three of his starts. After Dice-K picked up his between pitch tempo, at the behest of pitching coach Dan Warthen, he was sensational, posting a 1.37 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP averaging six innings per start over his last four starts. In January, the Mets brought Matsuzaka back, signing him to a minor league contract.
I personally believe that Mejia’s youth works in his favor. Both pitchers can get the job done but I think Mejia is part of this club’s long-term solution. I think it is time that he begins proving why he is so highly regarded by fans and members of the front office. If Matsuzaka does not make the team he should be sent to AAA Las Vegas. If a pitcher falters or gets hurt he will likely be the first option considered. The wrench in all of this is Dice-K has an opt-out clause stating if he is not in the majors by the end of May he can leave the team to pursue another contract. But I firmly believe Mejia is the correct choice for the Mets in 2014, and hopefully beyond.
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