David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
A few years later, Jenrry Mejia is still here. So is Dan Warthen. They're the only ones left from the polarizing spring training decision that transformed Mejia, the Mets' top pitching prospect in 2010, into something considerably less.
Jerry Manuel, the first to publicly make the comparison between Mejia and Mariano Rivera, was fired after that season, as was Omar Minaya. It didn't all happen because of the way Mejia was handled late in their tenure, but the shaky status of Manuel and Minaya may have influenced their motivation.
Long story short, Mejia was pushed into the Mets' Opening Day bullpen, wasted away in a relief role, was sent back to the minors and wound up having Tommy John surgery.
Supposedly, Mejia is a starter again, despite the team's belief that he's probably best suited to be a reliever. Just as he was in 2010. But now Mejia is not as good. And Warthen, the only one left to speak for that fateful decision, is unapologetic.
"He had an impressive spring," the pitching coach said Tuesday. "Throwing 95, 96 with a natural cut. A Mariano-type natural cut. We thought that he could be an impact guy for us right away and we were certainly needing that guy."
It's difficult to figure out where Mejia fits in the Mets' current plans. He started Tuesday against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium, and to say he was ineffective would be generous. In one inning of work, Mejia threw away a comebacker and allowed three hits, including a grand slam to Casey Kotchman.
One scout in attendance had Mejia throwing in the low 90s, but his fastball no longer seems to have the same natural cut that made him more of a weapon at age 20. In the scout's mind, Mejia projects to the bullpen, and Warthen agrees, based on his mechanics.
"He puts so much effort into his delivery," Warthen said. "His stuff is certainly good enough to be a starter. But he puts so much effort into it, it's hard for me to imagine him going out there 33 times a year throwing 115, 120 pitches every time without him having some issues. It's just the constant pounding."
Back in 2010, Mejia took a mental beating. As exhilarating as it was to be the youngest Met to make an Opening Day roster since 19-year-old Dwight Gooden in 1984, Mejia was surprised when, after appearing in 30 games, he was sent back to the minors June 29 and told he would be a starter again.
He pitched at three levels to make the adjustment before being called up to join the Mets' rotation in September, but his season was ended by a shoulder strain. The yo-yoing around had taken a toll.
"We were protective of him," Warthen said, "and then Omar made a decision that he needed to go down and start. That came from Omar straight out and we took it and ran with it. Maybe we added too many innings or may have put some excess strain on him. Or maybe I was right in the delivery being so hard, that possibly put stress on his arm."
Mejia remembers being confused by the whole process. As a young, inexperienced pitcher, he did what he was instructed to do. Looking back now, even Mejia realizes how impossible his situation was.
"I think it was difficult," Mejia said. "It was too much. But they're the boss, I'm the player. They give me the ball and I throw strikes. That's my job."
To this day, Mejia's outlook is the same as it was two years ago. Incredibly, his situation hasn't changed much, either -- aside from the Tommy John surgery that ended his 2011 season after five Triple-A starts.
Mejia has appeared in 32 games for the Mets in two seasons. As a starter, he's 1-4 with a 7.03 ERA and more walks (14) than strikeouts (12) in 241/3 innings. In relief, he's 0-2 with a 3.23 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.20 in 302/3 innings.
The results appear inconclusive. The Mets are still on the fence about Mejia's future. Hindsight is of no help now.