In Monday night’s game against the Yankees, Jenrry Mejia came in and got four big outs. It was originally thought that since Mejia had pitched only three days prior, that he would only be expected to come in and get Alfonso Soriano out, which he did in splendid fashion on only three pitches. However, Mejia came back to pitch the bottom of the 8th after Lucas Duda drove in Eric Campbell for the tying run, and Chris Young blasted a home run over the left field wall to put the Mets up 9-7. Mejia struggled to control every pitch, but he kept the hitters off balance while maxing out his velocity and movement. It was a very nice performance.
If the Mets are going to continue their winning ways, Mejia will have to repeat these results more often than not, but he won’t be alone. Now that Rafael Montero has been officially announced as being the Wednesday night starting pitcher, Mejia knows his role is in the bullpen. He may not like it, but he kept his ego in check Monday night to deliver exactly what the Mets needed, and collected a win for his efforts. Mejia will soon be joined with newest call-up Jacob deGrom, and is already sharing time with what seems like a renewed Jeurys Familia. Don’t forget that Vic Black has been making some progress with his control issues down in Las Vegas and might soon be receiving a call-up of his own. What you get when you start assemble the pieces to that puzzle is a picture of a potentially dominant bullpen.
The word dominant is not thrown around lightly, but it might be apt in this circumstance. Since his first professional game, Mejia has drawn praise for the incredible amount of life he has on his cutter. Some have even compared it to Mariano Rivera’s, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Mejia also works in a nice assortment of breaking balls to throw hitters off, so in case his cutter is non-functional for some reason one day, he can rely on his other pitches to get him out of a jam.
deGrom is a bit more of a work in progress, but his fantastic numbers in Triple-A show that he’s ready to make his first leap into the majors. His fastball can hit mid-90s, and his changeup has improved to be a viable second pitch and throw hitters’ timing off. He’s never worked out of the bullpen, so like with Mejia this could be a tough transition. Put a little success under his belt though, and he might take to the role rather well, maybe as a 7th inning guy.
Then we have Black. He was assumed to be the closer if anything should happen to Bobby Parnell. Well something did happen to Parnell, and Black remained in the minors to figure out how to throw strikes. He can hit high-90s with consistency, but he needs that curveball to keep hitters honest regularly as well. He’s showing improvement and within a couple of weeks, it seems as though Black could be with the Mets, and might even be fighting to become the next closer. The person standing in Black’s way is Familia.
Familia is another guy who can hit mid to high-90s with regularity, but this year he’s been using his sinker more and with better effectiveness. He hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 4 in Colorado, and before that, April 18 at home versus Atlanta. He has only issued three walks since that April 18 game as well, showing that his control has picking up as his confidence rises. There has already been talk about Familia taking over the closer role last week, and after Kyle Farnsworth’s shaky performance Monday night, it seems more inevitable day by day.
Whether these guys falter or succeed is only part of the story. The 7-8-9 innings with some combination of deGrom, Black, Mejia or Familia will go a long way to improving the bullpen which just a few weeks ago sat as Jose Valverde, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Farnsworth. This improvement is not coming from panicked trades or signings, but from Sandy Alderson’s patient game plan. He has seen the bumps in the road, and is doing what he can to fix the problem now, before it gets any worse. Soon, those older three gentlemen will either have to accept diminished roles, or find renewed energy to help this bullpen succeed. They have done their jobs to hold the fort, but now it’s time for reinforcements. It’s time for the young guns to step up.