Jenrry Mejia getting closer to becoming full-time closer

Jenrry Mejia walks to the dugout after the

Jenrry Mejia walks to the dugout after the sixth inning of a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field on Monday, April 21, 2014. (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

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Rain postponed Friday night's game between the Mets and the Diamondbacks, but if the weather had cooperated, Mets manager Terry Collins would have been forced to call on Jose Valverde as his closer. Valverde failed badly in that role earlier this season.

But Valverde clearly is just a stopgap in that role until Jenrry Mejia is ready to assume it on a full-time basis. Of all the reasons Collins had to celebrate Thursday night's win over the Dodgers, Mejia's perfect ninth inning for his second save of the season was the development with long-term ramifications.

That was significant because Mejia was effective on back-to-back nights. That was a major step toward conditioning himself to pitch out of the bullpen after coming into the season as a starting pitcher.

Mejia would not have been available Friday night for a third straight game, but Collins was hopeful of having him for Saturday's 4:10 p.m. start against the Diamondbacks.

Asked if he was satisfied with Mejia's back-to-back effort, Collins said, "I am. He does need a day, though. We're being a little overly cautious, but I think very soon that confidence will be high enough that he can go out a lot more than twice in a row."

What does Mejia need to do to earn Collins' official designation as the Mets' closer? "He's got to be able to go out there three or four times in a row," Collins said. "If you're going to win on this level, you've got to have that guy you can count on [in that role]."

Mejia had success as a reliever early in his career but wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2011. He was used exclusively as a starter in five appearances last season before his season was cut short in August when he had bone spurs removed from his right elbow.

When the Mets lost closer Bobby Parnell to Tommy John surgery earlier this season and struggled to find a replacement, Mejia was reluctant to return to the bullpen. But since the move, he has pitched 51/3 scoreless innings, struck out six and walked no one.

Collins agreed that Mejia might have broken through a psychological barrier when he performed so well for the second straight night. "I think he is relieved," he said. "I think he's happy that he feels the way he does.

"Jenrry at one time said, 'I did this once, and my arm hurt.' And it wasn't just mental. When we put him in the bullpen, his biggest concern was, 'I've done this, and I got hurt. And I don't know if I want to try it again.' We said, 'That's why we got the bone chips out of your elbow. You've done the [rehab] process. But you've got to be honest with us about how you feel.' "

Collins said that at first, Mejia showed signs of tightness after each relief outing. On Thursday, however, he told Collins he was ready to go back-to-back. Before Friday's game, Mejia said he felt fine but probably needed the night off.

It's a process, but as Collins said, "I don't think it will be long where three nights in a row is [in reach]."

Notes & quotes: Friday night's game was rescheduled as part of a single-admission doubleheader beginning at 1:10 p.m. Sunday. As planned, the Mets will pitch Zack Wheeler on Saturday and Rafael Montero in Sunday's first game. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who pitched an inning of relief Thursday night, will start the nightcap. He said he's capable of 100 pitches . . . Arizona had a 2-0 lead on a two-run homer by Aaron Hill off Bartolo Colon when play was halted before the bottom of the fourth . . . The Mets hired Harold Kauffman, who spent more than 20 years as public relations director for the NBA Hornets, for the new position of executive director of communications heading coverage of off-field events.

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