Jenrry Mejia impresses in spring debut

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Don’t tell Craig, but there are some other exciting prospects playing in the Grapefruit League besides Jason Heyward.

One of them is Mets right-hander Jenrry Mejia. The 20-year-old Dominican has generated some considerable buzz, most notably from Darryl Strawberry earlier this week:

“I went to Omar and told him, ‘You’ve got to make this guy a
closer,'” Strawberry was saying in animated fashion Tuesday. “I’d
definitely put him in the pen this year, I don’t care if he’s only 20.
He’s got a pitch that guys can’t hit.

“He’s the only guy I’ve ever seen that reminds me of Mariano Rivera.”

He’s setting the bar impossibly high here, of course, but we all had a chance to get a look at him against the Marlins on Friday. And he was impressive. Mejia tossed 2 1/3 perfect innings of relief, throwing 19 of his 21 pitches for strikes while fanning four.

It’s only one outing, but it was enough for Jerry Manuel to say this:

“Wooo, wooo, man oh man,” Manuel said. “I told y’all. The eighth inning would look pretty good for Mejia, wouldn’t it?”

The whole idea was unthinkable just over a week ago, but for a club without a set-up man, maybe it’s not so crazy anymore.

Mejia was 4-6 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.31 ERA between High-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton last season and has been used exclusively as a starting pitcher over the past two seasons. Nobody will question his electric stuff, but control has been his major bugaboo (3.9 BB/9 over his first three professional seasons, including 4.7 BB/9 in 44 1/3 innings with Binghamton). Still, he’s the kind of guy who can overpower hitters, like we saw today, mostly with one pitch.

His secondary stuff is well behind — as evidenced by some erratic curves thrown during Friday’s contest — so he’s far from a finished product, but Rivera has proven that a reliever can make a career out of one great pitch. It’s a tantalizing idea, especially if Ryota Igarashi can’t handle the job or Kiko Calero is as unhealthy as the whispers suggest, but for an organization that hasn’t developed a star starting pitcher since the 80s, I’m hoping the Mets allow him to round out his arsenal in the minor leagues, as a starting pitcher.    

Why Ryan Zimmerman skipped spring training

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All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.

The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.

It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.

It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.

Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉