MIAMI -- Starter or reliever, reliever or starter. The debate rages on for two of the Mets' most heralded pitching prospects in years.
A day after Jenrry Mejia pitched well, but ultimately stumbled in his final start of the season, Jeurys Familia submitted a polar-opposite outing in a 3-2 loss to the Marlins. Unlike Mejia, who was dominant at times Sunday in Atlanta, but fell victim to a game-breaking three-run home run, Familia struggled with his control at Marlins Park only to hold the Fish scoreless through four inefficient innings.
"I just have to keep working on my fastball command," Familia said. "I think I'll be good then."
Had the Marlins not run themselves out of the first inning, the damage -- considering the hit and two walks that Familia allowed -- might have been considerable. But catcher Kelly Shoppach gunned down Bryan Petersen and Gorkys Hernandez in succession as they attempted to steal second, spoiling Miami's early possibilities.
"We see this guy had a slow move early in the game and we were going to take advantage and try to steal a couple of bases," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We had pretty good jumps, but Shoppach shut it down. This kid has a good arm."
Familia walked another batter in the second inning, two more in the third, and yet another in the fourth, finishing with six free passes. But he did not allow any more hits, showcasing the electric mid-90s sinker that made the Mets so anxious to give him a start down the stretch.
It was not until Rob Brantly's RBI double off Ramon Ramirez in the eighth inning that the Marlins did enough damage to sink the Mets for good. Miami had tied the game an inning earlier on Jose Reyes' sacrifice fly, after Giancarlo Stanton homered to lead off the sixth.
The Mets scratched across the first run of the game in the fifth inning, when Ronny Cedeno reached on a fielding error, moved to second on Ruben Tejada's bunt and scored on David Wright's single off Marlins starter Wade LeBlanc. A second run came an inning later, when Mike Baxter hit a pinch-hit RBI double against reliever Tom Koehler. But it was not enough.
Coming into the game, manager Terry Collins said he hoped that Familia would begin working on his changeup, a pitch he abandoned during his four-week run as a reliever. But Familia threw just two of them all night, leaning heavily on the sinker that vaulted him to the top of prospect lists around baseball this spring.
Unlike Mejia, who has told the Mets that he would like to remain a starting pitcher if at all possible, Familia holds no such overwhelming preference. If anything, Collins said, the rookie would rather relieve if it means more easily sticking in the big leagues come spring.
"I think that has a lot to do with it, and I also think he likes to relieve," Collins said. "He's a big strong guy, he's a durable guy. I think he can bounce back two, three, four days in a row, especially if it's one inning at a time, maybe just to come in and get a hitter. I think he does sense that that would be the fastest way here."
"I've been a starter my whole life," Familia said. "But if it has to be in the bullpen, I'd be fine with that."
His potential certainly is considerable, and the Mets became more convinced than ever of Familia's future in the bullpen this summer, when he went 9-9 with a 4.73 ERA as a starting pitcher at Triple-A Buffalo. Control was a significant issue for Familia, who would have less need for an effective third pitch -- that fabled changeup -- as a full-time reliever.
"We haven't seen the wildness out of the bullpen," Collins said. "There's work ahead. We knew there was going to be. He can't come up here and pitch three or four times out of the bullpen and all of the sudden get a feel for it. So we've got some things to do, but I'll tell you one thing: it's fun to work with those young arms like that."