Mejia's scoreless debut backed by Murphy's bat

Mejia's scoreless debut backed by Murphy's bat

WASHINGTON -- It was not as if the Mets had given up on Jenrry Mejia. His talent, after all, has always been plain to see.

But over the past three years, arm injuries and job uncertainty transformed Mejia from a significant pitching prospect to a significant question mark. So it was incredibly encouraging for the Mets to watch Mejia fire seven scoreless innings Friday in an 11-0 blowout of the Nationals, which saw Daniel Murphy's two home runs fuel the offense during Game 1 of a day-night doubleheader.

"I haven't seen him that good in a long time," manager Terry Collins said of Mejia.

Working as a starting pitcher in the Minors since recovering from a lengthy bout with right elbow inflammation, Mejia quite simply overwhelmed the Nats over seven innings. Though he allowed six singles over the first three, many of them were softly hit. And Mejia did not allow any of those six baserunners to score.

From there, he grew dominant, retiring 12 of his final 13 batters while striking out three in the sixth. After throwing a season-high 90 pitches last time out for Triple-A Las Vegas, Mejia needed 97 to complete seven innings at Nationals Park.

It was enough for Collins to say afterward that Mejia -- whom the Mets activated as their temporary 26th man for Friday's doubleheader -- will remain on the big league roster for the foreseeable future. Most likely, the team will revert to a six-man rotation, allowing them to delay strict innings limits for Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.

"Whatever they do, I've got to be fine," Mejia said. "Keep my head up, never down, keep working hard and doing my job."

All the necessary support for Mejia came early, when Murphy drilled a solo homer to right-center field in the first inning, then tagged Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann for a two-run shot in the third. Murphy finished 4-for-5 with five RBIs -- twice plating Juan Lagares, who reached base four times as a last-minute leadoff sub for injured outfielder Eric Young Jr.

The Mets finally chased Zimmermann in the seventh inning, when Lagares and Murphy rapped out consecutive two-out RBI singles.

"It's nice to feel like you're really able to contribute," Murphy said. "Zim made a couple mistakes for me, and usually when he makes mistakes, I hit them for singles. Today I was able to drive them, and I felt fortunate about that."

"I felt like I pitched a lot better than what the stat line says," Zimmermann said. "I made two mistakes, three runs -- I've thrown those pitches to Murphy plenty of other times and got him to ground out to second. Just today, it wasn't my day."

For Mejia, it was -- culminating a long, twisting, at times seemingly impassable road back to the Majors. Bursting onto the scene as a 20-year-old in 2010, Mejia was an accomplished Minor League prospect who filled an immediate bullpen void for the Mets. But pitching in relief for the first time in his professional career, Mejia -- coincidence or not -- strained his right rotator cuff later that summer.

His career quickly spiraled into a vortex of arm injuries and questions regarding his future role. Tommy John surgery robbed him of most of the 2011 season, before Mejia convinced the Mets late last year that he deserved another shot in the rotation. That might have come earlier than it did had bone spurs and elbow inflammation not cost him most of the first half of this season.

"I don't know if [we] gave up on him," Collins said. "It was easy to fall back in the pack, because he was the rage in 2010. Everybody thought this guy, the sky was the limit, and then the injuries set him way back."

Collins credited rehab coordinator Jon Debus, who insisted to Mejia that he should still consider himself one of the game's elite pitching prospects -- right there alongside Harvey and Wheeler.

If Friday's start was any indication, Mejia apparently took that advice to heart. Asked if this was his finest day as a big leaguer, Mejia laughingly countered, "What do you think?"

"I think so," came the reply.

"You think so?" Mejia said, still laughing. "Me too."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.