Mejia, once Mets phenom, now will be opening for one

Jenrry Mejia pitches in a game against the

Jenrry Mejia pitches in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. (Sept. 24, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Jim Baumbach

Newsday columnist Jim Baumbach Jim Baumbach

Jim Baumbach is an investigative / enterprise sports reporter for

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Remember Jenrry Mejia? He's pitching for the Mets on Friday. Yes, that Jenrry Mejia, the one-time young flame-throwing righthander who was supposed to be Matt Harvey way back when.

As Mets manager Terry Collins made a point of reminding everyone during his pregame news conference Tuesday, long before Harvey and Zack Wheeler brought some buzz to Citi Field, Mejia was the prospect billed as the next Dwight Gooden. But that was then.

In 2010, Mejia represented hope for a bright Mets future.

In 2013, Mejia is the guy the Mets call on when they need someone to pitch the first game of a makeup doubleheader.

Things have obviously not gone according to plan for Mejia and the Mets, mostly because of injuries to his once promising shoulder and elbow.

But as Collins discussed the reasons behind giving Mejia the spot start against the Nationals, he twice mentioned something that gives the manager hope that maybe, just maybe, Mejia can still develop into a legitimate big-league pitcher.

"He is still young," Collins said.

Youth represents such an important aspect of determining how we value baseball players. Mejia is only 23 years old, six months younger than Harvey, so it's easy to think: Maybe there's still a chance.

"One of the things we had to let him know and surely wanted him to understand, what he's hearing today about Harvey, about Wheeler, was all about Jenrry Mejia three years ago, in the same vein: Sky is the limit, plus stuff, power arm, all of those things," Collins said. "And he's still only 23 years old. Don't write yourself off just because you've had some arm issues."

He's only 23, yet in baseball years, Mejia seems much older, having already experienced so much.

Remember in 2010, then-manager Jerry Manuel practically begged general manager Omar Minaya to let Mejia break camp with the Mets, becoming the youngest player to make their Opening Day roster since, yes, Gooden.

That proved to be an ill-advised decision, as Mejia wound up without a defined role and was ultimately shipped back to the minors three months later to resume his training as a starter. Then he suffered a string of injuries, most notably Tommy John surgery in 2011.

This spring, the Mets hoped a healthy Mejia was ready to make a run at their rotation. And there were openings, thanks to injuries to Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum. But Mejia broke down, too, and he battled a forearm issue until the end of June.

He's made four rehab starts since then, the last two with Double-A Binghamton, where he's allowed only one run in 11 innings, striking out nine. But Collins also said, "It's a long way from Binghamton to D.C."

So you might say the Mets have learned the hard way to temper their expectations here. Mejia will be with them in Washington likely just for one day. That Harvey takes the mound in the night game of the doubleheader seems fitting; this time, Mejia is the opening act for the Mets' phenom.

"Go up here and show us you belong here," Collins said of Mejia, "and that you should stay here."

After Friday, who knows what's in store for Mejia.

But, hey, he's still young.

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