David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Terry Collins' pleas for a Las Vegas reshuffling of his pitching staff continued before Saturday night's game against the Phillies. And this time it looks as if the manager actually may get his wish, at the expense of Jenrry Mejia.
Mejia has been trending downward, with a 9.82 ERA in his last three starts, and Collins probably felt as if he had seen enough after Friday night's tiresome exercise. He wasn't alone. Watching Mejia throw 101 pitches and fail to make it out of the fifth inning was a disaster for everyone, and the Mets shouldn't feel obligated to put up with it.
Not with other viable options waiting in Vegas. The next phone call is likely to be for Rafael Montero, who pitched Friday and is on turn to take Mejia's spot Wednesday against the Yankees at Citi Field.
When pushed on Mejia's possible replacement, Collins quickly dismissed Daisuke Matsuzaka -- who's been wasting away in the bullpen -- and suggested that he's ready for the Vegas movement to begin. "It could involve someone coming up from the minors," Collins said.
At this point, why not? We understand the costly implications of starting the arbitration clock early, but the Mets are badly in need of reinforcements before this season goes down the drain. And this year they have some.
Montero has a 3.67 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League and opponents are batting just .203 against him. There's Jacob deGrom, with a 2.58 ERA and .267 OBA. For a bit later in the season, the Mets still are prepping their ace-in-development, Noah Syndergaard.
There are two schools of thought here. The more conservative approach would be to leave Mejia right where he is, bounce a reliever and ease Montero or deGrom into a less-pressurized bullpen role. It's the safer play when worrying about a young pitcher's psyche and still gives him the chance to be a difference-maker.
What Collins suggested Saturday, however, does not come with training wheels. Removing Mejia from the rotation not only messes with his future, it immediately throws someone like Montero into the Subway Series crucible. Staring down the Yankees, and going head-to-head with Masahiro Tanaka, is asking a lot of a young pitcher in a major-league debut.
It does help that Wednesday's game is at Citi Field, even if the crowd for the Subway Series tends to be more balanced than the usual home edge. At least Citi is a pitcher's park -- not like the launching pad in the Bronx -- and that should dial back the degree of difficulty from 10 to maybe 8 or 9.
Either way, it's no Mission Impossible, and if the Mets truly believe in what they have in the pitching pipeline, then give this next generation a shot. Plus, Mejia didn't sound all that confident Saturday after his on-field chat with Collins. The manager spent a few minutes before the game talking with him, if only to assure him they hadn't made a decision yet on his status for Wednesday.
Mejia's response? He apparently told the manager he wasn't sure his twice-repaired elbow could hold up pitching out of the bullpen, and that's not the all-hands-on-deck attitude you want from a member of your 25-man roster. Especially one trying to grab a foothold in the majors.
"I worry about my arm," Mejia said. "I want to have a long career. I don't want to get hurt again."
Maybe Mejia was just being too honest. We can't blame him after what he's been through with his elbow, including Tommy John surgery in 2011. But the evidence points to Mejia pitching more effectively in relief, based on his trouble getting through a lineup multiple times. Making him a reliever could strengthen the Mets in two areas.
"I'm OK with him being in the bullpen," Collins said. "But he's got to accept it if that's going to be the decision. Certainly we know he can do it and he knows he can do it."
Spoken like a manager whose mind already is made up. But can Sandy Alderson be convinced to pull the trigger?
The Mets were locked in a battle for sole possession of last place Saturday night against the Phillies, and it doesn't take very long for that hole to get too deep. A bold move might not prevent that from happening, but the Mets won't know until they try.