Mejia to work as starter at Double-A

Updated: June 21, 2010, 12:44 AM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- New York Mets officials have debated for three months whether rookie Jenrry Mejia belonged as a major league reliever or a minor league starter.

The minor league advocates finally prevailed Sunday.

After Mejia tossed a scoreless relief inning in a 4-0 rubber-game loss to the Yankees in the Subway Series, the Mets announced the 20-year-old right-hander was being dispatched to Double-A Binghamton to resume his grooming as a starting pitcher. Mejia is slated to start for the first time this season on Wednesday for Binghamton against New Britain.

Right-handed reliever Bobby Parnell will join the Mets on Tuesday from Triple-A Buffalo.

Mejia had been so impressive in spring training -- and the Mets' bullpen looked so underwhelming -- manager Jerry Manuel had successfully lobbied for Mejia to break camp with the team as a reliever.

However, Manuel acknowledged, Mejia had not recently stepped up and assumed the eighth-inning role as had been planned by this point. And given his relative lack of use -- he has now tossed only 4 2/3 innings this month -- the Mets opted to ensure Mejia get optimal development time as a starting pitcher.

"We see him long-term as a starter," said general manager Omar Minaya, who downplayed the suggestion that Mejia's nearly three months in the majors stunted his development.

Regardless, the major league service clearly did not allow Mejia to develop his curveball and changeup as he'll need to do in the minors. With the Mets, the premium for a reliever is throwing strikes. And given Mejia has a 95-mph fastball with natural cutting action, the rookie needed to concentrate on throwing that pitch in games rather than dabble with work-in-progress secondary pitches.

"Just the overall experience of being in the major leagues, that part of that mental development is great for him," Minaya said. "I think that when we broke camp in spring training, we had to put him on the team because the way he was throwing, he was the best reliever we had going at the time. Other guys have picked it up, and we feel much more comfortable with some of the guys picking it up."

Specifically regarding Mejia, Minaya added: "We feel comfortable there has been some development up here and he has helped us in different situations."

Mejia was 0-2 with a 3.25 ERA in 30 appearances. He allowed 29 hits, struck out 17, walked 15 and hit three batters in 27 2/3 innings.

Minaya said Mejia requested Binghamton over Triple-A Buffalo, although the organization wanted him to work with Double-A pitching coach Mark Brewer anyway.

"I told him I don't want to go to Triple-A, because I think Triple-A is too cold," Mejia said regarding Buffalo, which actually is quite temperate in the summer.

Minaya insisted the decision to demote Mejia had been in the works for a while, and was not influenced by needing rotation options now that John Maine's rehab tour has been aborted because of continued shoulder issues.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen predicted Mejia would have an impact in the majors again this season, although whether that's as a starting pitcher remains to be seen. Mejia may go to winter ball as well to continue his development as a starter with an eye toward breaking camp in 2011 in the rotation.

"By all means," Warthen said about Mejia returning this season as a three-pitch pitcher. "As a starter? We'll see what happens. But we'll see Mejia again.

"He's made great improvement on the changeup. He's worked his curveball almost every day. He's still not consistent with the release points, and he changes his arm slot a little bit. That's the biggest part -- we want to see his curveball, because it is a quality pitch."

Said Minaya: "By stretching him out, he's going to be able to throw those pitches. The only way he's going to get better is by throwing them."

Mejia did not indicate any displeasure with the move, partly because he envisions himself as a starting pitcher.

"I'll come back," Mejia said. "... I think I did my job. I don't think they sent me because I didn't do my job."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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