New York Mets: Dice-K Is Past His Prime, Mejia Deserves the No. 5 Spot

Michael Mandelkern@@metsonmymindContributor IIIMarch 27, 2014

Jenrry Mejia winding up for a pitch.
Jenrry Mejia winding up for a pitch.Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Mets have not decided who will fill the fifth spot in the rotation. Jenrry Mejia and Daisuke Matsuzaka have both impressed in spring training. However, Mejia should be the fifth starter because he is young and the Mets need to assess his value.

Daisuke Matsuzaka3.8618.2174
Jenrry Mejia2.899.1105

Mejia, 24, made his Major League debut with the Mets in 2010, but he has only pitched 82.1 innings in his career to a 4.04 ERA and 1.54 ERA. He missed the 2011 season due to Tommy John Surgery and only appeared in five games in 2012.

The Mets have constantly switched his role between starter and reliever. Whether he has a future with the Mets or is trade bait, now is the time to showcase his talent.

Despite his early struggles and lack of consistency, Mejia broke through in 2013 with a 2.30 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 27.1 innings. Although he only started five games, Mejia impressed the organization with his blazing fastball and sharp command of secondary pitches for outs.

But staying healthy is a major concern. He has already suffered elbow inflammation, problems with bone spurs, right shoulder strain and an MCL tear that led to Tommy John Surgery. But he showed promise in his stint last season and deserves the opportunity to prove he can be consistent.

His strongest outing in 2013 was his debut on Jul. 26 against the Washington Nationals. Mejia threw seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and seven scattered hits. 

Mejia hit 95 miles per hour on his fastball in that start. His injury history may come back to haunt him, but he has upside and should not spend the beginning of the season in the minor leagues.

Matsuzaka, on the other hand, is well past his prime at age 33. Although he has been effective in spring training, Matsuzaka has been subpar or been lit up throughout the majority of his career. Aside from a 2.90 ERA in 2008, his ERA since 2007 has ranged from 4.40 to 8.28 and his career WHIP is 1.41.

Expecting him to suddenly pitch well is far-fetched.

That does not mean Matsuzaka is incapable of eating innings as a fifth starter is expected to do. His walk-to-strikeout ratio in spring training has been encouraging and he ended his last four games of the 2013 season on a high note. However, his first three starts of 2013 in which he gave up 15 earned runs over 12.1 innings cannot be forgotten.

Manager Terry Collins seems to want Mejia in the rotation. Mike Vorkunov, a Star-Ledger writer, reported on Mar. 24 Collins’ comments on him:

"It certainly gives him an edge because he’s done it before and he’s done it a lot," he said. "But with the way Jenrry threw yesterday he’s got to be in that mix. Again, we’ll get in the room here in just a few minutes and start talking about what our best options are."

The Mets paid Matsuzaka $100,000 for the right to begin his season in the minors. Now the team has more time to decide whether he or Mejia will be the fifth starter.

If Jonathon Niese is not healthy by Game 6 of the season, the Mets would need both of them in the rotation. Assuming Niese is able to pitch in early April, Mejia’s youth and potential outweighs Matsuzaka’s veteran presence and slim chance of reverting to his old form.


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