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Jenrry Mejia sharp in spring training debut

Mets starting pitcher Jenrry Mejia throws in the

Mets starting pitcher Jenrry Mejia throws in the first inning of a spring exhibition game against the Washington Nationals, Wednesday, March 5, 2014, in Viera, Fla. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

VIERA, Fla. - At 20, Jenrry Mejia was rushed to the major leagues. At 21, he faced Tommy John surgery. At 23, he pitched through bone spurs that made his surgically repaired right elbow feel like it was on fire.

In only four seasons, Mejia has squeezed in a career's worth of ups and downs. Yet the Mets righthander shrugs at the notion he has become a forgotten man.

"Let me tell you something,'' Mejia said Wednesday after his first Grapefruit League start, an 11-5 loss to the Nationals. "They haven't forgot.''

Mejia is locked in a competition with Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan for the final spot in the Mets' rotation. In his first chance to impress, Mejia allowed an unearned run and struck out three in two innings.

He showed hints of the talent that once made him the franchise's top pitching prospect. But in his first game since elbow surgery last August, he also showed signs of rust, walking two batters and making a throwing error that led to a run.

"In the first inning, he made some really good pitches on some really good hitters, so he's the same guy we saw,'' manager Terry Collins said. "The more he gets out there, the more better command you're going to see. But I was very impressed. I thought he threw the ball well.''

Since saying earlier this week that Matsuzaka and Lannan may have the inside track, Collins has softened his stance, insisting Mejia remains a factor in the competition. Team insiders have reiterated that Mejia has earned a chance at the job.

It's why Mejia insists he doesn't feel forgotten. "I've got to take whatever they have for me,'' he said. "The thing is, be ready.''

For Mejia, being ready means being healthy enough to pitch, even through some pain. The strategy paid off last season. Mejia felt pain in his elbow in spring training. Although initially it was diagnosed as tendinitis, doctors later discovered bone spurs. Mejia opted to pitch, which opened the door for him to join the Mets last July.

In five starts he was brilliant, posting a 1-2 record and a 2.30 ERA. With a fastball that showed signs of renewed life, Mejia struck out 27 and walked only four. But his stint was brief.

The pain ultimately overwhelmed Mejia, who in August underwent surgery to remove the bone spurs. Doctors also discovered he had developed a cyst in his elbow. Mejia insists all of that is history.

Against the Nationals, he said he felt no pain or discomfort in his elbow. He watched his fastball cut against Denard Span, his first strikeout victim. The next time up, Span watched a Mejia slider for strike three.

Mejia will need to show that kind of command if he intends to win the rotation spot. If he doesn't, his future remains unclear. Team insiders said Wednesday that they have yet to discuss whether Mejia could land in the bullpen or be sent to Triple-A Las Vegas to start.

But those are concerns for later. For now, Mejia hopes to take advantage of his health.

"That's the most important thing -- I feel better, I feel good right now,'' Mejia said. "Everything is fine.''

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