JUPITER, Fla. -- Most managers say no one earns a roster spot off only how he performs in Spring Training. Track records come into play. Daisuke Matsuzaka has a track record, so too does John Lannan. Consequently, each has an advantage over Jenrry Mejia in the competition for the fifth spot in the Mets' rotation. Terry Collins said as much Sunday after watching Matsuzaka pitch effectively for two innings in what became the Mets' third loss in three Spring Training games.
Nothing is definite, Collins said. He said Mejia, by far the youngest of the three, has not been discounted nor should he be. But the manager indicated if all other factors were equal -- and that rarely happens -- one of the veterans is more likely to be the fifth man and that Mejia would be more likely to be assigned to long relief.
The Mets' sense of the scenario is that Mejia could benefit more than either of the older pitchers by pitching in relief and building arm strength. The big league bullpen can serve as a development tool.
For decades, managers and pitching coaches used bullpen assignments and frequent throwing in the 'pen as means of strengthening young pitchers' arms and improving their touch and grasp of the game. In recent years, clubs have moved toward using veteran pitchers in the long role, as the Mets used Darren Oliver, to significant benefit, in 2006.
Matsuzaka seemingly has impressed Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen in his two appearances thus far -- one in an intrasquad game last week and the other his two-inning start in the 7-1 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday. Matsuzaka allowed a run on two hits in the first inning and retired the side in order in the second. He threw 26 pitches -- plus 16 more in the bullpen afterwards -- walked none and struck out none.
His economical work Sunday reminded the manager of how well Matsuzaka pitched in his final three starts last season. That's track record, described by Collins as, "The games from last year or some other year that tell you what you can expect if everything is working right."
Managers prefer a degree of certainty in their rotation. Collins would be more likely to get it from Lannan or Matsuzaka than from Mejia at this point.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.