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Saturday, September 4, 2010
Baby Mets show their age in loss

By Adam Rubin
ESPNNewYork.com

CHICAGO -- The final five players in the New York Mets' batting order Saturday all made their major league debuts this season.

So on a day right-hander Jenrry Mejia made his first major league start and battery mate Mike Nickeas experienced his first big league action, at least there was some redeeming value rather than more wasted time for players already resolved to not being around next season.

That doesn't make it pretty, as a 5-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field demonstrated.

Jenrry Mejia
Jenrry Mejia became the sixth youngest pitcher in Mets history to start a major league game.

Mejia surrendered four runs and eight hits while striking out two and walking two (one intentionally) in a 96-pitch effort that included 64 strikes. He departed after five innings with the Mets trailing 4-1.

"I think I'm going to be better the next time," Mejia said. "This is my first start here."

At 20 years, 328 days, Mejia became the sixth-youngest starting pitcher in franchise history and the youngest in the majors this season by a day over San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner.

Meanwhile, Nickeas -- who had caught Mejia in Double-A and Triple-A this season -- went 0-for-2 in his debut, including grounding into an inning-ending double play in the second on the first pitch he saw in his major league career, from Carlos Zambrano. Jerry Manuel replaced Nickeas with Josh Thole behind the plate in the seventh.

Viewed as an accomplished defensive catcher in the minors, Nickeas did overthrow Luis Castillo at second base on a steal by Starlin Castro in the fifth, although the Cubs did not take advantage of the ball sailing into the outfield. Later that inning, the fourth run charged to Mejia came when Nickeas couldn't block a swinging strike three in the dirt to Tyler Colvin on what could have been the third out. Instead, Colvin reached first and the wild pitch scored Marlon Byrd from third base.

"I was a little jittery," Nickeas said. "And then, after the first inning, I felt great. It was a lot of fun."

The Mets scored in the fourth inning to pull within 3-1 when Cubs catcher Geovany Soto threw to second base on a double-steal attempt and Carlos Beltran slid around shortstop Starlin Castro's tag as Castillo trotted home. It was the Mets' first steal of home since Moises Alou did it on May 6, 2008. Alou lasted only 11 more games as a Met before a hamstring injury ended his career.

Ike Davis' solo homer in the seventh inning off Zambrano, the rookie first baseman's 16th long ball of the season, pulled the Mets to within two at 4-2. Davis had not gone deep since July 29.

Also on a positive note, shortstop Ruben Tejada's lack of offense at least continued to be offset by a strong arm. In the second inning, Tejada fielded an Aramis Ramirez grounder with his backhand on the outfield grass and sent a laser to Davis at first to retire the Cub.

"That was a tremendous play," Manuel said. "We know that he has that type of arm. To be that accurate with that type of play, we didn't know he could do that."

Mejia will stay in the rotation and presumably make his next start Friday at Citi Field against the Phillies, unless the Mets use an off-day Thursday to juggle things.

Mejia's fastball averaged 92.7 mph on Saturday, compared with 94.9 mph earlier in the season when he was a reliever. A discrepancy like that between relieving and starting often can be explained away because a starter needs to leave gas in the tank to go deep into a game. But in Mejia's case, it had more to do with him purposely varying speeds with his fastball to be less predictable.

The Mets had dispatched Mejia to the minors to polish his curveball. They also wanted him to hone his changeup and a four-seam fastball so that it would break in on right-handed batters and offset the cutting action away from them on most of his pitches. Although Mejia drew positive reviews in the minors, Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen indicated the secondary pitches remain works in progress.

Nearly 16 percent of Mejia's pitches were curveballs this time, more than double his average as a reliever earlier this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Twenty-four percent of his pitches to the Cubs were changeups, also more than double the previous rate.

"I think he's going to be OK," Manuel said. "I still think what we see is a young pitcher that still has the tendency to get the lefty out, but has a problem with the right-handed hitter. And this is a predominantly veteran, right-handed-hitting lineup. You can see the right-handed hitters put some decent swings on him."

Said Warthen: "Most all of his balls cut. We want that two-seamer to move the other way."

At the very least, Mejia does not lack confidence. Asked if he felt nervous during his first major league start, Mejia replied: "No way. For what? For a starter?"

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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