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Mejia conditionally allowed to return from drug ban in 2019

July 6, 2018

FILE - In this Feb. 21, 2015, file photo, New York Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia catches a ball during spring training baseball practice in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Mejia has been granted conditional reinstatement from his lifetime drug suspension and could return for the 2019 season. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Jenrry Mejia will get another opportunity to pitch in the major leagues.

Nearly 2½ years after becoming the first player to receive a lifetime suspension under Major League Baseball’s drug program, the New York Mets reliever was given conditional reinstatement Friday and could return to the big leagues in 2019.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Mejia will be able to participate in non-public workouts in the team’s facilities after the All-Star break and will be eligible for a minor league rehabilitation assignment in mid-August. If Mejia meets specified conditions, such as not testing positive again for a banned substance, he would be eligible to resume all baseball activities when spring training starts in February.

Mejia was suspended for life on Feb. 12, 2016, after his third positive test for a banned steroid. The drug agreement allowed him to apply a year later for reinstatement that would be effective a minimum two years after the ban started, with the decision at the commissioner’s discretion.

Manfred had a meeting with Mejia in 2017, after the application to return to baseball was submitted.

“Mr. Mejia expressed regret for poor choices he made in the past and assured me that, if reinstated, he would adhere to the terms of the (drug) program going forward,” Manfred said in a statement. “In light of Mr. Mejia’s contrition, his commitment to comply with the program in the future, and the fact that he will have already spent almost four consecutive years suspended without pay, I have decided to grant Mr. Mejia a final chance to resume his professional career.”

A right-hander who turns 29 in October, Mejia was the Mets’ closer in 2014, then was suspended for 80 games on April 11, 2015, following a positive test for Stanozolol, a drug popular among bodybuilders. At the time, he maintained, “I can honestly say I have no idea how a banned substance ended up in my system.”

Mejia returned July 12, appeared in seven games for New York, then was banned for 162 games on July 28 after a positive test for Stanozolol and Boldenone. The third suspension was for a positive test for Boldenone, an anabolic steroid generally used by veterinarians on horses.

“I’ve had a long, difficult time away from the game to contemplate the mistakes I’ve made both with regard to my positive drug tests and also the false allegations I made about Major League Baseball’s investigation into my testing history,” Mejia said in a statement issued through the players’ association. “Baseball is my profession, my passion and my life, and for those mistakes I am truly sorry.”

Mejia is 9-14 with a 3.68 ERA in 18 starts and 95 relief appearances. In addition to random drug tests, he will be subject annually to six additional urine tests and three additional blood tests.

He has four years, 140 days of major league service and would be eligible for salary arbitration this winter and again after the 2019 season before becoming eligible for free agency.

Even though Mejia is not being paid, he has a contract. The Mets cut his salary the maximum allowed, 30 percent over two years, from $2.47 million in 2016 to $1,976,000 in 2017 to $1,729,000 this year. For 2019, he can be cut by 20 percent to $1,383,200, staying within the reduction limit of 30 percent over two years.

“I am aware that he can get reinstated at some point,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “I think right now we’re just focused on who we have here and kind of moving forward.”

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