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Mejia making a run at being Mets' fifth starter

Righty hurls five innings of one-run ball vs. Nats, battling Dice-K for last rotation spot

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Mets clubhouse staffers on Sunday began loading the first crates and packages onto their equipment truck, which will roll up north later this week. Once they arrive back at Citi Field, everything will be unpacked and organized in advance of the team's arrival.

The roster will be pared down to 25 by that time, and the Mets are getting close. But with multiple decisions remaining, Jenrry Mejia is doing his best to make one of them as difficult as possible.

Despite a perception from the earliest days of camp that Daisuke Matsuzaka was favored to win the Mets' fifth-starter's job, Mejia is still very much alive in that competition. His five innings of one-run ball Sunday against the Nationals only solidified that perception in his penultimate start of spring.

"I have been working hard," Mejia said. "What I did last year, I want to do the same this year."

What Mejia did last year was reinsert himself into the organization's long-term plans, bouncing back from an unbroken string of arm issues to give the Mets five memorable starts down the stretch -- a 2.30 ERA with a 27 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings. The Mets ultimately shut him down so he could undergo clean-out surgery on his right elbow, but Mejia returned to camp healthy and ready to compete for a job.

Sunday, he bounced back from his worst outing of the spring to hold the Nationals to one run in five innings with six strikeouts, despite a bunion on his right foot that bothered him during the game. Mejia beamed as he spoke about the outing afterward, and manager Terry Collins later admitted that Mejia has made his job difficult. No less than three times per week, the manager said, he and his staff have discussed the fifth-starter competition in meetings.

"That's why I've got a good staff," Collins said. "They're not just going to sit there and nod their heads when I make a statement. They have their own ideas of what should be done and what's the best fit, who should be there. Each time those guys go out, sometimes opinions change."

Based on numbers alone, Mejia should be the fifth starter. He has posted a 2.89 ERA in three spring starts, with 10 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings, while Matsuzaka's ERA ballooned to 4.97 after his latest rough outing. Mejia is also already on the 40-man roster, whereas the Mets would need to clear a spot for Matsuzaka.

But the decision is not quite that simple. Battling injuries last summer, Mejia pitched only 52 innings combined in the Major and Minor Leagues. His career high was 108 2/3, set in 2010, so the Mets know they cannot rely on him for a full starter's workload this summer.

Collins called it "an issue that we have to keep in the back of our minds," but said he was unsure how many innings Mejia might be able to give him this summer. The answer could determine whether he makes the Opening Day roster, or if Matsuzaka earns the job instead as the Mets ease Mejia back into life as a full-time starter.

One thing the Mets do know is that John Lannan is no longer a serious contender for a starting role, even if his roster status appears safer than anyone's. The Mets used Lannan in relief for the first time in his career on Sunday, with plans to slot him into the Opening Day bullpen. There, he can serve as a lefty specialist while providing rotation insurance if necessary.

"You want to pitch in the big leagues, you know?" said Lannan, who has not officially received word that he will be on the team. "Especially coming off an injury and coming off surgery, you want to be healthy no matter what role it is. Now the goal is to help the team in any capacity."

Mejia's feelings are similar, though for him it might mean starting off in the Minors. For the rest of this spring, his goal is simply to make that choice as difficult as possible.

"I can't do anything about it," Mejia said. "The only thing I can do is go out there, do my job and let them make decisions."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.

New York Mets, Jenrry Mejia