ARLINGTON, Texas - Jacob deGrom, pinch hitter?

It could happen if the Mets follow through on carrying an extra reliever at the expense of a bench bat, an idea that Terry Collins and his staff have kicked around for at least a week.

Of the five pitchers projected to begin the season in the rotation, only Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee have built up their pitch counts to handle reaching 110 to 115 pitches in a game.

Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese and deGrom still might be at least one regular-season start away from reaching that point. With all three facing the prospect of being pulled early, the Mets believe an added reliever could provide needed protection.

"Early in the year, the fact that your pitchers aren't really ready to go 110 pitches or so, there's a good shot that you're going to need to take them out earlier than normal," Collins said before last night's 5-0 victory over the Rangers. "So you need to protect yourself not only with the starters but from overusing the guys in the pen."

That protection comes at a price, though. Going from five bench players to four could limit Collins' maneuverability in late-game situations. With a short bench and limited options, he might have to think twice about pinch hitting or resort to having starting pitchers pinch hit on their off days.

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Collins said the matter still is up for discussion, but a source said it's likely the Mets will start in the unusual alignment.

In that scenario, utilityman Eric Campbell appears to be the most likely player to be sent to Triple-A Las Vegas, at least until the starters begin boosting their pitch counts.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen downplayed the potential addition of an extra arm. "Every one of these guys is ready for 100 pitches in a baseball game," Warthen said. "I don't foresee us using them more than that for a while anyway."

Teams usually have starting pitchers build up gradually throughout spring training so they get around the 100-pitch mark by Opening Day. It's typical for pitchers to reach their high pitch count in their second-to-last outing before backing off in their final tuneup, as deGrom did last night.

The reigning NL Rookie of the Year threw only 46 pitches in four innings, holding Texas to one hit and striking out four.

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"This last one really made me feel like I'm ready for the season," said deGrom, who lowered his exhibition ERA to 2.08.

The Mets mapped out a traditional schedule, Collins said, before changing course. Though he insisted that his pitchers faced no health issues, he didn't elaborate on the reasoning behind the change.

DeGrom topped out at 81 pitches, Harvey reached 80 and Niese threw a high of 78. Each would have needed to get closer to 90 pitches to reach 110 to 115 pitches right out of the gate.

Said Collins: "We didn't want to give them that [workload] in spring training yet."

Gee will start against the Rangers in Saturday's exhibition, the Mets' final dress rehearsal. Niese had been scheduled to make a brief appearance in relief. Instead, he will throw two bullpen sessions ahead of his first regular-season start on April 11.