Grapefruit great Mejia coming to Apple

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Jenrry Mejia will be introduced with the rest of the New York Mets bullpen on Opening Day at Citi Field. Count the 20-year-old right-hander among those at least modestly caught off-guard, even though he was brimming with confidence about his chances of making the roster early in camp.

"I feel pretty surprised," Mejia said Saturday as the Mets completed their Grapefruit League schedule and prepared to fly to New York. "I feel pretty happy."

Mejia dominated Grapefruit League batters and could emerge as the Mets' primary bridge to closer Francisco Rodriguez before long. If Mejia -- or shortstop Ruben Tejada -- appears in Monday's game against the Florida Marlins, he will join an exclusive group. The only players 20 or younger to appear for the franchise on Opening Day are Dwight Gooden (1985), Ron Swoboda (1965), Jose Oquendo (1984), Ed Kranepool (1963, '64 and '65) and Jim Bethke (1965).

Not too shabby for a player signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007 for $16,500, and who took up baseball against his will because of his mother's prodding. Mejia had been content shining shoes to earn money in his native country.

Mejia's mother, Fidelina, plans to attend Opening Day.

"I didn't do anything in my house -- only cleaning shoes, watching TV," Jenrry Mejia recalled about his childhood. "She said, 'You have to do something.' I said, 'I don't want to play baseball.' She said, 'Please. Play baseball.' I didn't like baseball. I never heard about baseball."

Mejia said he realized he might belong after having success in his first Grapefruit League appearance, when he retired National League MVP runner-up Hanley Ramirez on a fly out while tossing three scoreless innings against the Marlins.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen suggested that by Mejia's third outing he knew Mejia had a legitimate shot to make the roster. Warthen watched as Mejia showed composure after entering with the bases loaded in one game -- a completely foreign circumstance to Mejia, who only started in the minors.

"He gave up a couple of hits, but he kept throwing strikes," Warthen said. "I think we realized that this guy could help us."

Mejia had walked a batter per inning in the Arizona Fall League, leading team officials to conclude entering camp that he would be best served going to Double-A Binghamton's rotation to open the season to harness his control. But Warthen, who visited Mejia during the AFL season, adjusted the right-hander's pitching mechanics and got him back to throwing strikes. Mejia walked only three batters in 17 Grapefruit League innings while compiling a 1.59 ERA.

Mejia was stepping too far toward the first base side while completing his delivery, forcing his arm to go across his body rather than more fluidly toward the plate.

"He got into either some lazy habits or bad habits in the Fall League," Warthen said. "I ended up going down there and saw him. He was way across his body. I talked with [Mets pitching coordinator] Rick Waits. We went to the bullpen. We worked with him. And he threw good strikes after that. The day that I happened to see him, he was right on with everything. He went home. He got in better shape. And he's maintained the delivery since."

Said Mejia about the AFL: "Over there, I wanted to throw too hard. I'm trying to throw strikes here to make the team."

Manager Jerry Manuel compared the movement on Mejia's fastball to Mariano Rivera's cutter early in camp, raising eyebrows because of the stature of the famed closer.

Regardless, Mejia isn't a one-pitch pitcher. At least he won't be long-term, when he learns to control his curveball.

The Mets haven't abandoned their belief that Mejia can be a front-of-the-rotation starter, either.

"There's a number of people in the organization who still think he's going to be an impact starter," Warthen said. "There's no reason he can't be a reliever for a year, and maybe go to winter ball and start. There's a lot of different options for a talent like this, because he does have a plus curveball. Now, the command of the curveball is well below major league average. But the pitch itself is above average, as is his changeup."

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