Mets keep Jenrry Mejia as fifth starter and send Daisuke Matsuzaka to Las Vegas

Mets starting pitcher Jenrry Mejia throws against the

Mets starting pitcher Jenrry Mejia throws against the San Diego Padres during the first inning. (Aug. 17, 2013) (Credit: AP )

MONTREAL - Sandy Alderson crossed his arms as he watched the scene unfold three stories below him. His suite could have accommodated a dozen executives. But the Mets' general manager sat alone, keeping score.

On the field, Daisuke Matsuzaka did all he could to claim the fifth spot in the Mets' starting rotation, pitching five scoreless innings and striking out eight against the Blue Jays Saturday before a raucous crowd at Olympic Stadium.

On the surface, the decision appeared to be made. But shortly after Alderson left his suite, he threw a curveball, naming homegrown righthander Jenrry Mejia to the starting rotation.

For the stunned Matsuzaka, a flight to Las Vegas and Triple-A awaits.

"I definitely am shocked at this decision," he said through a translator.

Matsuzaka, 33, began spring training as the presumed favorite to seize the role of fifth starter, but team officials insisted that Mejia had just as good a chance to win the job.

His performances of late only bolstered his case. And Saturday night, after the Mets' final spring training game, Mejia emerged with a spot in the starting rotation.

"The only thing I've got to worry [about] is to do my job and . . . go out there and do the best I can," said Mejia, who hadn't been tipped off about the news. "I never worried about making the rotation, or being in the big leagues."

Part of the Mets' decision stems from guarding themselves against injury. Had Mejia been optioned to the minors, he couldn't have been recalled for 10 days. Matsuzaka can be promoted with no restrictions, making him the more logical candidate to step in if needed.

That flexibility might prove important for the Mets, who might need a starter if Jonathon Niese (left elbow inflammation) isn't ready to come off the disabled list in time to make his scheduled start next Sunday. The Mets also wanted to keep Matsuzaka available in case Mejia wasn't ready to make his start on Friday.

Mejia left Friday's game against the Blue Jays when he took a comebacker off his right forearm, but doctors found only inflammation, and the Mets seem confident in Mejia being ready to go.

The club could have kept Matsuzaka in New York so he could start in Mejia's place, but Alderson said Matsuzaka will be on a flight to Las Vegas Sunday. There is no timetable for when he might be called up.

"My background is such that I know how it is in Japan sometimes," manager Terry Collins said. "You can get sent out for no reason. So I know he's probably been through it before. He shouldn't be happy. He better not be. I'm sure he feels as if it's the wrong decision and I certainly understand it because of the way he threw the baseball."

There were plenty of reasons for the Mets to go with Mejia.

As spring training drew to a close, team insiders insisted that he had made a strong bid based on his performance. While Matsuzaka's veteran presence carried some value, team officials found themselves intrigued by Mejia's upside.

Because of his right elbow injury last season, Mejia faces limits that might force the Mets to shut him down once he reaches 100 innings. But that still will be enough innings for the Mets to use Mejia as a bridge until the likes of Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero are ready to be promoted.

Matsuzaka posted a 3.04 ERA in his six exhibition starts and Mejia finished with a 2.70 ERA in his four outings. But after paying Matsuzaka a $100,000 roster bonus this past week, the Mets can keep him in the minor leagues until the end of May if they so choose.

"The situation with Daisuke was very difficult," Alderson said. "He pitched very well. Jenrry Mejia also pitched very well."

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