Is Jenrry Mejia ready to reclaim his phenom status for NY Mets?
MIAMI -- These two games aren’t stacked on top of one another on the same day, as when Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler swept the Braves in their “Super Tuesday” doubleheader in Atlanta last month. Plus, the Mets are competing for attention this week with the trade deadline, and the imminent war between Alex Rodriguez and Major League Baseball.
Maybe no one is watching Mets-Marlins, save for Jerry Seinfeld, Snooki, Paul Auster and a smattering of bloggers, but Tuesday and Wednesday in Little Havana present another peek at the light for the organization. This one is almost more compelling than that June doubleheader, because it involves not only Wheeler on Tuesday but Jenrry Mejia -- Jenrry Mejia! Remember him? -- on Wednesday. Seriously, it’s crazy that he’s back, and apparently nastier than during his hype days.
Wheeler’s sometimes awkward, occasionally spectacular learning process is a compelling storyline this season, and it continued against the Marlins on Tuesday. This game showcased a bit of both, with Wheeler arriving in the seventh inning with a no-hitter, then allowing the Marlins to stomp on him for two fast runs. For a good chunk of the what became a 4-2 Mets win, it was must-see.
He and Harvey were supposed to be two of the only reasons to watch the Mets this year -- and if we were asked last week to list the next 25, we wouldn’t have thought to include Mejia. Then, last Friday in Washington, one night of darting fastballs and diving sliders changed everything, and Terry Collins had another potential phenom.
You have to understand, the Mejia story was over. Once the organization’s top pitching prospect, he had become a nearly washed-up 22-year-old with nothing in his toolbox -- a low-90s fastball with no movement, and secondary pitches that weren’t fooling anyone. Then, in a side-session last September, the pitching coach made a career-reviving suggestion.
“When I came here in September last year, Dan Warthen showed me how to throw a slider,” said a beaming Mejia, back in a major league clubhouse. “Then I threw it in winter ball. And now I throw it perfect.”
That might read like a boast, but he said it with glee, not swagger. After posting a 5.62 ERA last September, then missing most of the first half this year with discomfort in his forearm and elbow (he needs offseason surgery, but does not consider it major), Mejia seemed cooked for good. And, according to organizational sources, he had Frank Francisco advising him to stay in Port St. Lucie and collect his big league D.L. money, rather than work to return and be optioned to the minors.
It impressed the Mets when Mejia opted to tune out Francisco. At one point, staff down in Port St. Lucie began mentioning Wheeler and Harvey as motivation; “three years ago, you were the guy, not Harvey and Wheeler” coaches told him. “Show us you’re still in that league.”
Pep talks are nice and all, but no one expected the filth that Mejia brought to Washington in his season debut last Friday. “Outstanding,” Collins said on Tuesday. “Not just the slider. I had no idea he had that curveball. And the change-up was dropping from here to here (the first “here” being a spot near Collins’ belly, the second being just above his knees).”
“I had seen him throw all those pitches,” Warthen said, “but I had never seen him throw them all together.”
Added Mejia: “Now I’ve got my fastball that I had before. A lot of movement. Sometimes the two-seamer -- my normal fastball -- moves like a cutter.”
Now listen to a rival talent evaluator. “The breaking stuff had so much movement, wow. He was back. He is still so young. He was in the big leagues when he was 20. He’s still a kid, there is still potential.”
Could this be for real? Could Mejia join Harvey and Wheeler as high-end pieces for the future rotation? Warthen stressed caution on that question after just one start, but did say that he was re-thinking his long-held views that Mejia should be a reliever.
Another person in the organization, speaking candidly because of a truth serum called anonymity, said, “he is farther along than Wheeler, at least with the secondary pitches. He doesn’t have the velocity that Wheeler has, but has way better command.”
Pitching is weird that way. One guy gets all the buzz, and he’s not quite ready to thrive. You forget all about the other guy, because his moment has passed, and then he stages a second act no one expected. For two days in Miami, Wheeler and Mejia are the show.