The Mets shook up their pitching staff Monday night, moving Jenrry Mejia to the bullpen to make room in the rotation for prospect Rafael Montero, who will make his major-league debut Wednesday night in the Subway Series.
Aside from Noah Syndergaard, Montero is the Mets' most highly touted pitching prospect. The 23-year-old righthander is 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA for Triple-A Las Vegas. He will be joined by fellow prospect Jacob deGrom, who was promoted after Monday night's 9-7 win over the Yankees when reliever Gonzalez Germen was placed on the disabled list with a virus.
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Rival scouts rave about Montero's strike-throwing ability and believe he is ready to face big-league hitters.
"He's ready to come up," said one talent evaluator who saw Montero recently. "It seems like he's in total command when he's out there."
That command will be tested in his first start against the Yankees and their undefeated ace, Masahiro Tanaka.
"We understand it's a big debut on a big stage," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "We understand it's unlike the debuts we've had over the last couple of years."
Montero will reach the big leagues earlier in the season than highly touted prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler did. But Alderson drew a distinction with Montero, who has logged more time in Triple-A than Harvey and Wheeler did before they made their debuts.
Though Montero will be capped at 180 innings, with the likelihood that some of his starts will be skipped to keep him within the limit, the Mets are confident that he will make the adjustment.
Said Alderson: "We think he's ready now."
The Mets looked into various options, including whether to break in Montero in the bullpen, either in the big leagues or in the minors. They also contemplated making the move later while allowing Mejia to remain in the rotation. Instead, Alderson decided the timing was right for a change.
With the Mets trailing the Yankees 7-6, Mejia entered Monday night's game with two outs in the seventh and struck out Alfonso Soriano. After the Mets scored three in the top of the eighth, making Mejia the pitcher of record, he added a scoreless eighth and got the win to improve to 4-0.
Mejia has been outspoken in his desire to stay in the rotation, citing fears about whether his arm can withstand the stress of pitching on short notice. He blames shuttling back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen early in his career for a pair of elbow surgeries. But Mejia has continued his long-established trend of fading late in his starts.
With the Mets' bullpen in need of a talent infusion, Alderson said Mejia emerged as their best internal option.
"At some point, his wishes and our needs have to be reconciled," Alderson said.
Though he has yet to be slotted in a specific role, Mejia has been viewed as a potential closer, a need for the Mets. They've already moved past Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth's hold on the job is precarious, creating a potential spot for Mejia.
"I don't feel bad," Mejia said. "I feel good because I'm going to stay with my team. That's what my team needs me to do. I got to do it. I do the best I can. Got to do my job, being a starter or a reliever."
Innings limits also played a role in sending Mejia to the bullpen. Alderson said he will be capped at 125 innings this season, meaning the Mets ultimately would have to make "some accommodation" to keep Mejia on the roster during the season.