"I saw him the other day," the former Mets catcher said. "I love his stuff."
Mets manager Jerry Manuel was one of the original gushers, but he urged prudence as he delivered his first glowing evaluation. Mejia is 20 years old, he reminded his audience, and his experience as a professional totals merely 210 innings. Now, developments at Mets camp -- some positive, some not -- have removed one layer of the caution, Manuel advocated.
The manager acknowledged on Friday that his thinking has reached the point that if Mejia were on the Opening Day roster, his role would likely not be as the eighth-inning setup reliever. Last week, Manuel apologized for mentioning Mejia in the same sentence as "the guy across town," aka Mariano Rivera. And later, he smiled when Darryl Strawberry invoked his former mate Mo. But now, four games into his team's Spring Training schedule, Manuel has indicated how much he has considered the notion of Mejia going north.
Moreover, Manuel acknowledged the unlikely availability of Kelvim Escobar to fill the eight-inning role come April has changed the prism through which he now views Mejia. This is not an updated version of Manuel's spring fling with Jonathan Malo last year. The manager appears to be as serious as a two-out tweener with the bases loaded.
All this came to light in the aftermath of a 4-3, 10-inning Mets loss to the Marlins on Friday. Mejia had faced seven batters and retired each one, four on swinging strikeouts. Starter Jon Niese pitched well, striking out five in 2 2/3 innings. And as important as his development to the team's welfare is, Mejia's newness and dominance made Niese sidebar material. And it should be noted that Manuel had deployed Mejia in the third inning so he might oppose the more accomplished hitters who had started the game, a subtle but hardly insignificant increase in the challenge Jenrry Manuel Mejia would face. (Maybe the manager just likes his name.)
Mejia once again had wowed his audience -- and his catcher -- with his high-octane fastball, his natural cutter -- the pitch that has prompted the unfair comparisons to King Mo -- his changeup, his curve and his sense of how to use all of them to his greatest advantage.
Rod Barajas enjoyed catching the heat.
"His cutter is so good, it's almost a true sinker," Barajas said. "I haven't talked to him about it and all the things he does, but I think he has enough stuff and enough experience already that he knows how to get through a batting order."
A question had developed during the intrasquad game on Monday: Is the movement on his four-seam fastball so natural that it prohibits him from throwing a pitch that doesn't cut?
Barajas had this response: "Not from anything I saw. When he gets two strikes and the batter's looking for something that cuts out of the strike zone, he can throw the four-seamer that doesn't cut. It just stands him up.
"He's got two pitches [that are] so good that he can make a mistake and still get away with it. If he throws something 94-95 [mph] and gets too much plate, you still have to hit something 94-95. If he cuts it and leaves it over the plate, you still have to hit that cut. Neither one would be easy."
Manuel, of course, is committing to nothing at this stage. There is no benefit to that. But he has challenged Mejia once, and it worked. And now there is another. The manager told his plebe to focus on throwing his fastball low and away as a way of gaining consistency with his mechanics and command. Mejia accommodated on Friday.
Now, Manuel said, "You hope, as he progresses, you see that consistency. If he can do that, he has someone [the manager] fighting for him."
Manuel wouldn't be alone in that regard. Pitching coach Dan Warthen hardly is opposed to Mejia pitching in the big leagues. The pitcher's age is not an issue, he said.
"It's not a new concept," Warthen said. "The Tigers had [Joel] Zumaya when he was young [21 in his rookie year]. Our guy makes you think about it. And it's exciting to think about. ... I would hope everyone here is excited.
"Today, he was a big league pitcher. But you get reports when guys are in the Minor Leagues: 'He was a big league pitcher.' Consistency can be the hardest part. If he can do that four, five, six times ... well ..."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less