Cubs 6, Mets 3: Mejia debate continues

LAS VEGAS -- With Jonathon Niese injured, Jenrry Mejia had a chance Sunday at Cashman Field to bolster his bid to make the starting rotation. Mejia did not help himself in the Mets’ 6-3 split-squad loss to the Chicago Cubs.

Mejia allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits and two walks in 2-1/3 innings. He surrendered a solo homer to Donnie Murphy in the third before giving way to Rafael Montero.

“His command wasn’t real good today,” Terry Collins said. “When he pitched for us last year, that was one of his strengths -- his command. Today, he didn’t have it. I don’t know whether it was a different mound or whatever.

“He threw a lot of pitches, a lot of deep counts, so we had to get him out of there. His stuff was still good. We’ll run him out in five days and see how he does.”

While Mejia officially remains in contention for a starting spot along with John Lannan and Daisuke Matsuzaka, he could be the odd man out.

Matsuzaka appears the front runner for the fifth starter’s role. Now, if Niese were to miss significant time, the Mets could include Lannan or Mejia in the rotation, too. Lannan otherwise should be in the bullpen.

Mets officials have told ESPNNewYork.com that they do not want to shift Mejia between starting and relieving roles anymore. They do plan to have a conference to consider a bullpen spot for him if he does not make the rotation out of spring training.

One option with Niese, assuming his elbow injury is not significant: backdate a DL stint nine days into spring training. The Mets will not need a fifth starter until April 6, so the Mets could carry an extra bench player or pitcher the through the first five games.

“He’s in the mix,” Collins said about Mejia as a rotation candidate. “But again, we don’t know if there’s something wrong with Jon or if he’ll miss ample time. Somebody’s got to fill that hole and we’ll need someone behind him.”

Montero also had an off day in the thin desert air. He allowed two runs on four hits and a walk, with one strikeout in 2 2/3 innings. He served up a solo homer to Daniel Vogelbach.

“The homer was a mistake up here and he never pitches up there,” Collins said, raising his hand to his chest. “As a matter of fact, that might be one of the few times I’ve seen him make mistakes up there. He just didn’t make a good pitch. But we like him a lot.

“The issue’s going to become where we think we’re going to need him when it’s time -- out of the bullpen or in the rotation. With Jon having the problems he does, we need to make sure some of the minor-league arms we’ve got are ready to start if we need them. That’ll be discussed tonight.”

Collins then clarified that Montero is only a candidate to make the Mets’ Opening Day roster as a reliever, not a starter.

Gold Glove defense: Juan Lagares displayed the dazzling defense that has him in contention for a starting spot.

Playing center field, he made a diving catch of a shallow fly ball by Chris Coghlan to end a bases-loaded threat in the first. He then threw out Darwin Barney at the plate to end the second. Barney had doubled and tried to score on a single by Ryan Kalish.

“I’ve seen some great arms, and he’s in that group,” Collins said. “And accurate. He might have as accurate an arm as anybody I’ve ever seen. It was a tremendous throw. And a good catch in right-center field on the soft liner. We know he can do that. Defensively, he’s as good as anybody in the league.”

As for his offense, Lagares went 0-for-4.

“He’s trying hard. Like any young player, when you’re trying to make the club and try to impress people, you get two strikes and sometimes he expands [the zone] on his own,” Collins said. “He’s got to realize you’ve still got to make them throw you a strike. But he’s done a good job. We’re going to keep running him out there. We’ve got two more weeks and we’ve got five or six guys we’re going to try to get a lot of at-bats for.”

Shortcoming: Wilmer Flores made his second spring start at shortstop, and Collins insisted he’s still in the mix there, given the lack of capable shortstops in camp. Still, Collins already has assured Ruben Tejada of the starting job (assuming there are no external acquisitions). Tejada had his fourth Grapefruit League error Sunday in Jupiter.

“For sure, we’re going to play him again. He’s not done playing out there. We’ve got to have somebody ready,” Collins said about Flores. “We know Wilmer’s dangerous with the bat, so we’re going to try to move him around. He’s played second. We’ll let him play in the middle of the infield and see how hot we can get him.”

How they scored: Andrew Brown hit a long two-run homer, and Zach Lutz also homered and had two hits. Carlos Torres had five strikeouts in three innings and allowed a homer to Arismendy Alcantara.