Mets' bullpen a strong point thanks to young arms


Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia reacts after Miami Marlins' Donovan Solano grounds out to end the game at Citi Field on Saturday, July 12, 2014. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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We interrupt another disappointing Mets season to bring you a story.

A success story.

Look out to the right-centerfield area at Citi Field. To the left of the Pepsi Porch and the Mo's Zone. Behind the outfield fence and in front of the Shea Bridge.

To the Mets' bullpen.

Sitting out there Sunday will be excitable closer Jenrry Mejia, who was a starter when the season began. Next to him will be dominant eighth-inning guy Jeurys Familia, who was having his hand held as a middle-inning reliever in April.

When the season began, Bobby Parnell was the Mets' closer. He lasted one day before going on the disabled list and eventually needing Tommy John surgery. In his place, the Mets used retreads Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth before executing a mid-May makeover and turning to the youngsters. Only Familia and Carlos Torres are left from Opening Day's seven-man squad.

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As spring turned to summer, the Mets have remade a weakness into a potential strength for years to come. Mejia and Familia both are 24 -- they were born one day apart -- and Parnell could be back in 2015 to vie for his old job.

Add in hard-throwing righthander Vic Black and reborn lefty Josh Edgin, both of whom flamed out in spring training but earned their way back to the big club. Both had been spectacular before going down this past week with what the Mets hope are minor injuries.

For support, toss in Torres, Dana Eveland, Buddy Carlyle and even the mercurial Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the Mets have a group that has been effective even as the season has ground to a familiar and disappointing halt.

No, the Mets are not going to win 90 games this year. Maybe not even 80. But for the first time in the Sandy Alderson era, they have a chance to go into next season with something they haven't had in what seems like forever:

A reliable bullpen.

Hey, it's something.

"To give you a comparison," Alderson said, "going into this spring, we had one guy penciled into the bullpen. And that was it. Carlos Torres. Well, going into next season, certainly you can pencil in almost a half-dozen if you wanted to."

The finishers: Familia, Mejia

A lock-down bullpen starts at the end -- the end of the game. The Mets think they have found that combination in Familia and Mejia, the former starters who have grown into their roles as the season has progressed.

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Mejia has a 2-6 record, a 2.89 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings out of the bullpen after opening the season with a 3-0, 5.07 mark in seven starts. He has converted 20 of 23 save opportunities, including Friday night's 4-1 win over the Phillies.

Mejia does it with multiple pitches and a flair for the dramatic. His post-save celebration on the mound is not subtle. It consists of glove slaps, arm raises, fist pumps, deep-knee bends and whatever else he can fit in before they turn the lights off at the ballpark.

All that from a guy who really, really didn't want to be a reliever.

"I was surprised because I think within a week, he felt like he already belonged there," bullpen coach Ricky Bones said. "In his mentality, I think his makeup is kind of perfect for the bullpen because he can forget what happened the night before to get ready for the next day. That's the kind of guy that has success in the bullpen."

Said Mejia: "It's good, it's good. I've never been the closer before, but I go out there and do my job. Try to do the best I can."

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Alderson said Mejia will not be yo-yoed back into the rotation. "I think we're past that," the general manager said.

Familia, who made his only major-league start two seasons ago, is the quiet one with the loud fastball. He has a 2-3 record, a 1.90 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings.

On Friday, Familia threw a scoreless eighth inning on 14 pitches. They were all fastballs between 97 and 99 miles per hour. There were no breaking balls or fist pumps.

"Familia is more like a more quiet guy," Bones said. "He likes to have fun the first two innings . The third inning, he starts to get into the game. He's learning more about himself, about what he can do on the mound. What I see from him especially is he's still growing."

Mejia has more experience in the big leagues, having spent time with the Mets as early as 2010, but Familia likes to point out he is one day older, having been born on Oct. 10, 1989.

The two grew up about two hours away from each other in the Dominican Republic. They first met in 2007 after signing with the Mets. Now they are close -- as close as the eighth and ninth innings.

"To be in the bullpen with him, that makes me feel happy," Mejia said. "Because we know each other. I feel like he's my brother because I spend a lot of time with him. Sometimes go out, take some food. Like brothers. Always. I like to be in the bullpen with him because I have somebody can talk to me about his family. He knows my family and I know his family."

Said Familia: "I have one day older than him. We have known each other a long time. The first year I came to the United States, we played in the same league. Right now, we are together in the bullpen. It feels good."

Future looks bright

If all goes well, the Mets will head to spring training with Mejia, Familia, Parnell and Black as late-inning options along with the lefty Edgin.

Black, who has a 2.20 ERA and has stranded 26 of 27 inherited runners, is on the disabled list with a herniated disc in his neck. Edgin, who has a 1.40 ERA and has not allowed an earned run in August, missed the last week with elbow soreness.

Alderson said he hopes both are "little hiccup injuries" that will go away with rest.

So if everyone starts 2015 healthy, the bullpen could be a far cry better than in most of the Alderson era.

Mets fans can only cringe at the memories of Valverde, Farnsworth, Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, D.J. Carrasco and Brandon Lyon, to name a few who have trotted in from behind the right-centerfield fence and in front of the Shea Bridge without distinction.

We know you've heard this before . . . but better days truly may be ahead for the Mets.

At least in the bullpen.

"I've always been of the opinion and maybe have expressed it before that our bullpen wasn't going to be significantly better until we started to see an influx of our own young power arms," Alderson said. "It's been a nice turnaround. The pitching staff's been pretty good overall and the bullpen in particular has been good and obviously a change from past years."

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