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Mejia looms as Mets’ ‘if’ pitcher

February 26. 2013 11:45PM

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JUPITER, Fla. — Even with his name and age confirmed, Jenrry Mejia’s hardball identity remains defined by a string of question marks. Starter or reliever? Legit prospect or dated heirloom? Someone the Mets can trust or someone they cannot?

A few years ago, Mejia — not Matt Harvey, not Zack Wheeler — was the most prized piece on the farm. Now he’s an arm of last resort, a fifth starter if Johan Santana is not healthy, if Jeremy Hefner stumbles, if, if, if …

On Tuesday afternoon, he added another pin to this clothesline of doubt. Mejia pitched just one inning. He allowed five runs, four earned.

The mistakes he made Tuesday mirrored the mistakes he made when he was called up last September. Of the eight batters he faced Tuesday, six were given the benefit of a 1-0 count. It was reminiscent of his first start last autumn, when he threw first-pitch balls to 14 of the 19 hitters he saw in a 9-6 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers.

“I (felt) ready,” Mejia said after leaving Tuesday’s 7-5 loss to the Miami Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium.

He did not look ready. It took just three pitches before the afternoon slid from his grasp.

Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre bunted a 1-1 pitch back toward the mound. Mejia fielded the ball cleanly, then he rifled it down the right-field line.

“That happens sometimes,” Mejia said.

He gave up two singles and a walk before Casey Kotchman, a nine-year veteran who has never hit more than 14 home runs in a season, smacked a grand slam. Mejia fell behind 1-0. Then he threw a fastball.

“This is my first time,” Mejia said. “The only thing that I have to work (on) is (throwing) strikes. Practice on throwing the first pitch for strikes.”

Mejia pitched two games in the Dominican Republic while waiting for his visa, Collins said. Digging too deep into spring training numbers can be dangerous, but Collins sounded concerned that a pitcher who has been throwing could look this shaky.

“When you’re trying to make a club, you’ve got to get ready to pitch,” Collins said. “It’s a little different when you’re a 10-year veteran and you know how to get ready. It’s another thing when you’re trying to impress the manager. He threw fine. Just threw way too many balls in the middle of the plate.”

Mejia is still young, just 23, but his early taste of the big leagues has not been pleasant. Mejia went 0-4 in 2010. He underwent surgery Tommy John surgery in 2011.

Last September, during his late-season cup of coffee, Mejia made five appearances. He went 1-2 with a 5.63 ERA.

Collins has committed to using Mejia as a starter this spring. He has mentioned Mejia as a rotation cushion if Santana or another starter is not ready for opening day. But it would be tough to slide him into that spot if he continues to struggle.

“I’m sure he’s a little anxious to be out there,” Collins said, “so we’ll get him a side (session) and get him back out there next week.”

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