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Jeurys Familia ready for closer role after Jenrry Mejia goes on disabled list

Mets relief pitcher Jeurys Familia looks on in

Mets relief pitcher Jeurys Familia looks on in the dugout. (April 25, 2013) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

WASHINGTON - Jeurys Familia looked like a machine that was missing a gear.

The heavy sink that turned his pitches into lead projectiles seemed reticent to return from the long winter away. What was left looked so underwhelming, so pedestrian, so hittable.

Then the lights came on, and not a moment too soon for the Mets, who on Tuesday placed closer Jenrry Mejia on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Sunday.

X-rays and an MRI exam in New York revealed posterior elbow inflammation. Mejia received a cortisone injection and will be shut down for at least 10 days.

To replace him on the roster, the Mets recalled Eric Goeddel from Triple-A Las Vegas. The righthander was one of the final cuts before the team broke camp.

Closing duties will likely fall to Familia.

"As I've always said, I'll be ready for anything, it doesn't matter what inning, what situation," said Familia, who had a 2.21 ERA in 76 appearances last season. "I'm just trying to help the team."

The news on Mejia came one day after the Mets turned to Familia in the opener, when they needed to protect a two-run lead in the eighth inning. This time, the parts clicked. The machine roared to life.

"I don't worry about what happened in spring training, you know?" Familia said, after tossing a shutout inning in the 3-1 win over the Nationals. "Like I've said, I just wanted to make sure all my pitches were ready for Opening Day."

Tightness seized Mejia's right elbow in the middle of the ninth as he attempted to warm up for the save chance. The pain never relented. He jogged from the bullpen to the dugout, where he was met by trainer Ray Ramirez.

It was a particularly troubling development for Mejia, 25, whose career already has been derailed by Tommy John surgery. That injury history is why he initially was cool to the idea of converting from starter to reliever last season.

Mejia began last year as the fifth starter. But when closer Bobby Parnell went down with an elbow injury -- a calamity that also came on Opening Day against the Nationals -- it created an opening that was filled by Mejia.

Now, the Mets must hope that rest and treatment will cause the pain to subside. In the interim, Terry Collins has already expressed confidence that Familia can step in.

Familia needed only 14 pitches to log a perfect eighth. He struck out two. His fastball lit up the radar gun at 98 mph and his sinkers averaged 97. To keep the Nationals honest, he sprinkled in four nasty sliders.

"What you saw tonight is what we saw for three months last year," Collins said. "It was exactly that -- great stuff, in the strike zone, used his pitches when he has to throw something beside the fastball."

That dominance had been missing in the spring when Familia posted a 5.59 ERA. His velocity scraped the low 90s and his timing appeared off.

"Maybe he's one of those guys in spring training, he's so stinkin' big, it takes a little time to maybe get the mechanics down to where he feels comfortable," Collins said.

Comfort proved to be no issue in the opener. The 25-year-old Familia is a hulking figure atop the rubber, the height of the mound only enhancing his 6-3, 240-pound frame. Against the Nationals, he exerted near total control over all of it.

By the middle of the ninth, Familia had already retreated to the clubhouse. He missed the Mets' bullpen scurrying like office workers surprised by an afternoon fire drill.

But the Mets got their machine back. And if a save chance arises Wednesday night, there shouldn't be any scrambling over the final three outs.

"I trust my stuff," Familia said. "Like I always do."


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