ARLINGTON, Texas - The Mets didn't bother waiting for the regular season to begin before throwing a curveball.
Before ending their exhibition slate Saturday by tying the Rangers, 4-4, they finalized a 25-man roster that includes an extra relief pitcher at the expense of a bat on the bench.
The configuration is unusual, especially for a team in the National League, where the need for pinch hitters is amplified. But with the Mets protecting their starting pitchers -- particularly returning ace Matt Harvey in his first season back from Tommy John surgery -- they sought extra safeguards in the form of one more reliever.
Three starting pitchers -- Harvey, Jonathon Niese and Jacob deGrom -- have yet to build up their pitch counts to exceed 100 in a game. It was a concession made by the Mets, who have adopted a conservative approach with their starting rotation.
"I just think we need to protect ourselves early, our starting pitching early," manager Terry Collins said. "We're going to have to be careful with Matt. We've got to certainly make sure that Jake doesn't overdo it. Jon Niese, all of them, I just think it protects us down in the bullpen so we don't have to use guys too often too early."
Utilityman Eric Campbell wound up the odd man out, sent to Triple-A Las Vegas when he had appeared to be a lock to make the team.
"That's the way it works sometimes," said Campbell, who last season carved out a niche on the bench. "All offseason, the workouts, you do them to make the team out of spring training. To not do it for the second year in a row is disappointing."
The Mets lacked the flexibility to demote any of the other bench candidates, leaving Campbell to take the hit. He had hoped to avoid that fate, even adding emergency catching duties to his repertoire during camp.
"I've got two choices," he said. "I can hang my head or I can go play hard. I've always played hard, so that's what I'll go do."
For now, Collins believes he can manage a man short on his bench. "Right now, I just don't see us hitting for anybody in the lineup," he said. "So that's why I don't think the extra guy on the bench is important yet."
Campbell's demotion could prove to be short-lived. The starters could be ready to log more than 100 pitches after one turn through the rotation. But until then, they will have a crowded bullpen that includes lefty Sean Gilmartin and righty Buddy Carlyle.
Gilmartin, 24, gives the Mets a third lefthanded reliever. He had been selected in the Rule 5 draft from the Braves. The Mets asked him to make the conversion from starter to reliever, and he made the cut despite hitting a few bumps early in spring training.
Carlyle beat out prospects Zach Thornton and Erik Goeddel to seize the last relief opening for a righthander.
"As I've gotten older, I've definitely learned not to pay too much attention to that," said Carlyle, who posted a 1.93 ERA in 10 games.
Carlyle, 37, had signed a minor-league deal to rejoin the Mets after posting a 1.45 ERA in 27 appearances last year. He had an out clause in his contract that would have freed him to seek other jobs had he not made the club.
Goeddell and Thornton were sent to Triple-A Las Vegas along with infielders Danny Muno and Matt Reynolds. Those moves indicate that second baseman Daniel Murphy will be ready for Opening Day on Monday against the Nationals.
Murphy had been a question mark because of a pulled hamstring that kept him out of Grapefruit League play.
The Mets also optioned Johnny Monell, who pushed incumbent Anthony Recker for the backup catcher spot.
Monell hit .327 in camp, but the Mets have long valued Recker's rare power for a backup, which he flashed at the end of Saturday's exhibition finale.
The Mets trailed with two outs in the ninth inning before loading the bases ahead of Recker. He tied it with one swing, bashing a grand slam off reliever Jesus Pirela.
"He's dangerous," Collins said of Recker. "You look up at what he's done the last couple of years and that's it."
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