ARLINGTON, Texas - Jacob deGrom, pinch hitter?

It could happen if the Mets follow through on carrying an extra reliever at the expense of a bench bat, an idea that manager Terry Collins has kicked around the last few weeks.

Of the five pitchers projected to begin the season in the rotation, only Bartolo Colon and Dillon Gee have built up their pitch counts to handle reaching 110 to 115 pitches in a game.

Matt Harvey, deGrom and Jonathon Niese still might be at least one regular-season start away from reaching the same point. With all three facing the prospect of being pulled early, the Mets believe an added reliever could provide needed protection.

"Early in the year, the fact that your pitchers aren't really ready to go 110 pitches or so, there's a good shot that you're going to need to take them out earlier than normal," Collins said before Friday night's exhibition game against the Rangers. "So you need to protect yourself not only with the starters but from overusing the guys in the pen."

That protection comes at a price, though.

Going from five bench players to four could limit Collins' maneuverability in late-game situations. With a short bench and limited options, he might have to think twice about pinch hitting or resort to having starting pitchers pinch hit on their off days.

Collins said the matter still is up for discussion, but a source said it's likely the Mets will start in the unusual alignment.

In that scenario, utilityman Eric Campbell appears to be the most likely player to be sent to Triple-A Las Vegas. Meanwhile, the bullpen could be stocked with three lefthanders, including Rule 5 draft pick Sean Gilmartin.

The Mets could quickly revert to seven relievers and five bench players once most of the starting rotation builds up to the range of 110 to 115 pitches.

"They've all thrown about 80," Collins said. "Now you can add 15 to that easily, so you're at 95 to 100. So they're close."

Teams usually have starting pitchers build up gradually throughout spring training so they can be near the 100-pitch mark by Opening Day. It's typical for pitchers to reach their high pitch count in their second-to-last outing before backing off in their final tuneup, as deGrom did Friday night.

Against the Rangers, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year threw only 46 pitches and allowed one hit in four shutout innings.

The Mets had mapped out a traditional schedule, Collins said, before they changed course in the middle of spring training.

"We certainly didn't want to do it," Collins said. "But I think due to some circumstances, yeah, we tried to be careful with some guys."

Though he insisted that his pitchers faced no health issues, Collins didn't elaborate on the "circumstances" that prompted the Mets to cut off their pitch counts. DeGrom topped out at 81 pitches, Harvey reached 80 and Niese threw a high of 78. Each would have needed to get closer to 90 pitches in order to reach 110 to 115 pitches right out of the gate.

Said Collins: "We didn't want to give them that [workload] in spring training yet."