NEW YORK (AP) — So much for easing in the new kid.
Rafael Montero was handed quite an assignment by the New York Mets for his major league debut: a Subway Series start against the crosstown rival Yankees.
The Mets bumped Jenrry Mejia to the bullpen Monday, a move he was reluctant to make, and said Montero will be called up to pitch in the right-hander’s place Wednesday night at Citi Field.
“We understand that it’s a debut on a big stage,” general manager Sandy Alderson said. “We think he’s ready now.”
One of several touted arms in the Mets’ farm system, the 23-year-old Montero is 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 41 2-3 innings at Triple-A Las Vegas. He tossed 5 1-3 hitless innings Friday night in a win over Salt Lake and was pulled after 98 pitches.
Next up, Derek Jeter and the Bronx Bombers.
“We think from a mental standpoint, he’s well able to handle it,” Alderson said. “The basic question that we ask ourselves is, what gives us the best chance to win?”
Montero is 9-5 with a 3.25 ERA in 24 Pacific Coast League starts over the past two years. Alderson said it’s possible prospects can get “stale” lingering in Triple-A, so it’s time for a new challenge.
The 24-year-old Mejia got off to an excellent start this season, but had struggled to pitch deep into games lately. He went 3-0 with a 5.06 ERA in seven starts and had repeatedly expressed his preference to be in the rotation, citing injury concerns.
After having two operations on his right elbow, including Tommy John surgery in 2011, Mejia said last weekend he doesn’t want to get hurt again and he’s not sure how well he’ll be able to get loose quickly in the bullpen.
Alderson, however, said the Mets need help in their struggling ‘pen and he thinks Mejia is “committed to the challenge at this point” after a chat with manager Terry Collins.
“At some point, his wishes and our needs have to be reconciled,” Alderson said.
Mejia entered in the seventh inning Monday night against the Yankees for his first major league relief appearance since September 2012. He struck out two in 1 1-3 scoreless innings to earn the win in a 9-7 victory.
Mejia sure seemed to relish the role. The fired-up righty pumped his fist after a double play and then backed his way off the mound following a called third strike that ended the eighth.
“It feels pretty good. I’ve got to enjoy it,” a smiling Mejia said. “If they need me in the bullpen, I’ve got to be there because I never play for myself.”
After the game, the Mets recalled right-hander Jacob deGrom from Las Vegas and placed reliever Gonzalez Germen on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 6, with a stomach virus.
A starter in the minors, deGrom also will go into the big league bullpen. The Mets held him out of his scheduled start Monday night for Las Vegas and put him on “standby” for a call-up. He is 4-0 with a 2.58 ERA in seven starts for the 51s.
New York relievers began the day 6-8 with a 3.99 ERA, which ranked 20th in the majors. The bullpen had blown eight of 14 save chances and been saddled with five losses already this month, tied for most in the majors.
A big part of the problem has been uncertainty in the ninth inning since closer Bobby Parnell went down with a season-ending elbow injury after blowing a save on opening day. Collins has tried veterans Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth in the role, but neither has been very effective.
Even longtime starter Daisuke Matsuzaka has a save, after the Mets converted him to a reliever this year.
“We don’t have a guy we can count on in the ninth inning, and I think that colors everything,” Alderson said.
Farnsworth got his third save Monday night — thanks to some good fortune and sensational defense in a shaky ninth.
Collins said youngster Jeurys Familia is getting close to being a late-game option, and Alderson said Mejia has the potential to be a closer — though he won’t be rushed into that job right away.
Alderson also said moving Mejia to the bullpen is the only way for him to contribute all season, because the club isn’t going to let him throw more than about 100-125 innings after he pitched only 52 last year.
Mejia broke into the majors as a 20-year-old reliever in 2010, but was used mostly as a starter when he returned to the minors. After recovering from elbow trouble, he made five promising starts for the Mets last summer and expressed to the team his desire to be a starter.
He got his wish this spring and beat out Matsuzaka for the final slot in the rotation.
“We wanted to find out what we had,” Alderson said.
Alderson also said promoting top prospect Noah Syndergaard was not a consideration at this point. Syndergaard is 4-2 with a 3.92 ERA in his first season at Las Vegas.
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