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August 25, 2019

Ackert: Mets can’t afford for Jason Vargas to be bad much longer, but their options are limited

May 27, 2018

MILWAUKEE — The Mets signed Jason Vargas this spring for some insurance and consistency. The veteran lefty was never expected to dominate hitters like the power arms the Mets already had, but he was there to consistently eat up innings every five days to set a steady pace for the rest of the rotation. He was an experienced pitcher to bolster an often injured rotation.

But this was not the kind of consistency they were looking for.

Vargas got chased after just three innings Saturday. He allowed five earned runs on six hits. He walked two and struck out five and set up the bullpen for a long day in the Mets’ 17-6 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park.

“He just needs to go out there and get some confidence,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “I think he made some strides in his outing before today, then today it kind of snowballed on him again. He needs that consistency of going out there and gaining that confidence that he needs to have success.”

Unfortunately the only consistency the Mets are getting from Vargas is short starts and a lot of runs.

The Mets can’t afford to keep running Jason Vargas out to the mound every five days. (Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Saturday, Vargas blew the three-run lead the Mets gave him in the first inning and then blew the two-run lead that he was handed in the third.

And then he was done.

In five appearances so far this season, Vargas has one quality start.

He has given the Mets just 20.1 innings pitched and has allowed 24 earned runs for a 10.62 ERA.

Jason Vargas was atrocious once again Saturday.
Jason Vargas was atrocious once again Saturday. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The Mets really can’t afford much more of this kind of consistency. But Vargas is expected to make his scheduled start on Thursday night against the Cubs at Citi Field, Callaway said after the embarrassing loss. The manager feels he has no choice but to go to Vargas again.

“We’re still looking for somebody to start the second game of a doubleheader (on Monday),” Callaway said when asked why. “If we had someone to. . . we don’t even have a guy that we know can start game two on Monday.”

Well, the Mets do have two capable starters in their bullpen who have been successful in the big leagues before, but are reluctant to move them. Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman would be the obvious candidates to slip into the rotation to give Vargas time to work on his confidence — and his fastball command.

But the bullpen is already so tenuously constructed with Jerry Blevins and AJ Ramos struggling, and the younger relievers have yet to earn Callaway’s trust, so the Mets won’t change Lugo’s or Gsellman’s role.

Seth Lugo deserves a shot at starting, but the Mets are hesitant to take him out of the bullpen.
Seth Lugo deserves a shot at starting, but the Mets are hesitant to take him out of the bullpen. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Vargas felt he made some good pitches Saturday and the Brewers just hit them. It’s just part of the season, he said.

“Over the course of time you learn how to deal with failure and success. You know in a position like this you have to come to work every day and be ready to do your job — regardless of what is going on, what’s happened in the past or what is going to happen in the future,” Vargas said. “I’ll go back to work between this next start, continuing to make pitches and hopefully it falls our way next time. You don’t get beat 17 to whatever very often.”

No, they haven’t all been embarrassing losses, but the Mets are 1-4 in Vargas’ starts this season.

That’s far from worthwhile for a pitcher who received a $16 million, two-year deal and was supposed to steady the rotation.

A middling pitcher for most of his 13-year career, Vargas was coming off an 18-11 season with a 4.16 ERA for the Royals. Those stats are a tad misleading. In his first year back after 2015 Tommy John surgery, Vargas went 12-3 with a 2.62 ERA in the first half of 2017, rightly earning an All Star nod. In the second half, he went 6-8 with a 6.38 ERA.

So far, the Mets have consistently seen the second-half 2017 version of Vargas on the mound. And they can’t afford much more of that.

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