ATLANTA - Jenrry Mejia, the brash and colorful reliever who a year ago stomped his way to 28 saves as the Mets' closer, has been suspended 80 games by Major League Baseball after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
The suspension, effective immediately, further weakens a Mets bullpen now missing three critical pieces.
Mejia already was away from the team on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to April 5, with elbow inflammation. His absence now will spill over into the second half of the season.
"I know the rules are the rules and I will accept my punishment, but I can honestly say I have no idea how a banned substance ended up in my system," Mejia said in the statement issued through the players' union. "I have been through a lot in my young career and missed time due to injury. I have worked way too hard to come back and get to where I am, so I would never knowingly put anything in my body that I thought could hold me out further."
Mejia, 25, went 6-6 with a 3.65 ERA in 2014, all while punctuating his outings with what became his signature stomp on the mound.
His first sustained success in the big leagues came after he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010. He pitched through various injuries as recently as last season, when he fought through a sports hernia that later required an operation.
"I'm sorry to the Mets' organization, my teammates and the fans, as well as my family," Mejia said in the statement. "In life, I know God puts certain obstacles in your path and this is something else I know I will overcome."
According to MLB, Mejia tested positive for Stanozolol, an anabolic steroid that also is known as Winstrol. Pitchers David Rollins (Mariners), Arodys Vizcaino (Braves) and Ervin Santana (Twins) also have tested positive for Stanozolol within the last month.
Mets manager Terry Collins broke the news to the team before Saturday night's loss to the Braves.
"We're all shocked and disappointed," Collins said. "But we stand by the rules."
When asked how a player could be unaware of substances that wind up in his body, Collins responded "I know what goes in mine. I can't answer for everybody."
The Mets issued a statement backing baseball's anti-PED rules.
"We were disappointed when informed of Jenrry's suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program," the statement read. "We fully support MLB's policy toward eliminating performance-enhancing substances from the sport. As per the Joint Drug Program, we will have no further comment on this suspension."
Peter Greenberg, Mejia's agent, declined to comment.
Mejia's extended absence will force the Mets to improvise. Though they expected to go another few weeks without Mejia, they had not banked on being without him for the entire first half.
The Mets should get reinforcements soon.
Righthander Bobby Parnell is in the homestretch of rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, though he might not be back until closer to the end of the month.
"We aren't going to rush him back," Collins said. "I think it's unfair to ask Bobby to do that."
The timeline is a bit more muddled for Vic Black, who is on the DL with shoulder fatigue. He has yet to to pitch in back-to-back games, a basic prerequisite before the Mets can seriously consider reintroducing him to game action.
Until Black and Parnell come back, the Mets must deal with a bullpen that suddenly is lacking in experience and recent success in the big leagues. The Mets, according to a source, intend to fill the void in-house as opposed to signing an available free agent such as Rafael Soriano.
Mejia's absence carries ramifications that extend beyond the lines of the playing field.
After his emergence last season, Mejia earned the respect of players and coaches for overcoming injuries that sidetracked his career. His loss comes after a spring training filled with optimism and a series victory against the Nationals to begin a season packed with expectations.
Now the Mets must attempt to meet them without Mejia, one of their most potent weapons.
"I love this kid," Collins said. "Certainly this is a big disappointment."