MILWAUKEE -- Before they drafted Matt Harvey, before they traded for Zack Wheeler, before they endured the sting that can come from rushing young talent, the Mets channeled their hopes into the powerful right arm of Jenrry Mejia.
His talent made it easy to forget that the last time he started a major-league game -- two years ago Saturday -- he was only 20 years old. He had yet to be scarred.
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"Now it's a big difference," said Mejia, who starts Saturday against the Brewers.
Mejia was referring to the trust he's developed with his breaking pitches. But it's just one of the differences he takes with him to the mound now.
Before the Mets beat the Brewers, 7-3, Friday night, Mejia looked back at the two years since his last start. In that time, he has been supplanted by Harvey and Wheeler and has lost valuable development time while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The scar on his right arm is the mark he wears for being fast-tracked to the major leagues.
Even before surgery, Mejia faced questions about whether his talents would hold up under the weight of increased workloads. Elbow surgery in May 2011 only added to those doubts. Without secondary pitches that can be trusted in big moments, Mejia would be exposed against major-league hitters, even with the benefit of a mid-90s cutter.
He missed a full year just rehabbing from surgery. Nevertheless, at 22, he remains an important prospect. But unlike Harvey and Wheeler, Mejia's future role isn't as clear-cut. He must convince the Mets that he has what it takes to make it in the rotation someday. Said Mejia: "I want to be a starter."
In Mets manager Terry Collins, Mejia has a willing partner. "I was one guy that thought, 'Why can't he start?' " Collins said. "I know he's a maximum-effort guy, but there's no reason why somebody can't do that."
Mejia, who turns 23 next month, believes he's a different pitcher. He's more comfortable throwing his breaking pitches in different parts of the strike zone. He's sure of his ability to handle the scrutiny of the big leagues. Besides, he still has plenty of heat on his cutter, which is how he opened eyes in the first place.
"Starters, they need at least three [pitches] that they can throw for strikes," Collins said. "I'm anxious to see him, how he handles it."
Mejia went 3-4 with a 3.54 ERA for Triple-A Buffalo this season, though he enjoyed more success as a starter than as a reliever. Out of the bullpen, he posted a 5.48 ERA in 16 appearances. In the rotation, he had a 2.75 ERA in 10 starts.
Said Collins: "As I did with Harvey, I'm going to make my own judgments when I see him."
Notes & quotes: The Mets snapped a six-game losing streak and had their best offensive output since scoring six runs Sept. 5 at St. Louis . . . Winning pitcher Jonathon Niese (11-9) allowed two runs in six innings . . . Collins wants more at-bats for Lucas Duda, who rewarded his manager Friday night by going 2-for-4 with a homer . . . Daniel Murphy's two-run homer gave the Mets a 4-0 lead in the second inning.