Although the Mets currently feature more starting pitchers than spots available, the fact that they played two doubleheaders this past weekend forced them to dip deeper into their roster for a spot starter Tuesday in Baltimore. Their choices: Ariel Jurado, a recent trade acquisition with a 5.85 career ERA over a not-so-small two-year Major League sample, or Franklyn Kilome, a rookie with seven mottled innings of big league experience.
Turns out neither option was ideal. Jurado put the Mets into an early hole. Then, after New York thundered back to tie the game, Kilome allowed four more runs to ice the Mets’ fifth straight loss, a 9-5 defeat to the Orioles at Camden Yards.
“They didn’t fully give us what we were expecting,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “They didn’t do a good job.”
Not in the picture were any of the starting pitchers the Mets traded away or lost to waiver claims over the past two years -- a list that includes Justin Dunn, Anthony Kay, Simeon Woods Richardson, Stephen Gonsalves, Jordan Humphreys, Walker Lockett and Kevin Smith.
Perhaps none of them would have made a difference on Tuesday, when Renato Núñez hit a three-run homer off Jurado in the first inning and a solo shot off Kilome in the seventh. Anthony Santander also homered and drove home three runs for the Orioles, who scored five off Jurado and four against Kilome.
But perhaps those extra arms would have mattered for a Mets team in search of rotation consistency all summer. Jurado became the 10th starting pitcher to appear for the club this season in its 36th game -- one more than it used in 162 games last year. The volatility has not been a positive trend for the Mets, whose starters have gone four innings or less in 13 of 36 games. In three spot starts this season, Corey Oswalt, Lockett (before he was designated for assignment Aug. 28) and Jurado have posted a 7.53 ERA.
“Obviously, when you come in and we’re on a bad losing streak, if you’re able to end that losing streak, you feel good about it,” Jurado said through an interpreter. “Today, I just tried to give the best of my abilities. I was really just trying to battle the entire way through.”
In a way, Tuesday’s loss was two years in the making. An organization built around starting pitching watched that surplus erode as Matt Harvey succumbed to injury and Zack Wheeler left via free agency. Recognizing that, the Mets shored up their rotation with two back-end signings this winter, inking Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha to one-year deals. But when Noah Syndergaard underwent Tommy John surgery and Marcus Stroman elected not to play, the rotation again became perilously thin.
When that happened, it exposed what little depth the Mets had left in their farm system. Since becoming general manager late in 2018, Brodie Van Wagenen has:
• Traded Dunn as part of a seven-player deal for Canó and Edwin Díaz
• Dealt Kay and Woods Richardson in a trade for Stroman
• Designated for assignment Gonsalves, Humphreys and Lockett due to 40-man roster crunches
• Traded Smith to the Orioles for reliever Miguel Castro
Most of the high-upside pitchers remaining on the farm are recent draftees who won’t be able to help for another two to three years. And starting pitching is at such a premium around the league that few options exist on the free-agent market. (Harvey recently signed a Minor League deal with the Royals and has since posted a 15.43 ERA in three MLB starts.)
In the long term, the Mets are going to have to hunt for starters again this winter, with Syndergaard a question mark and Stroman, Wacha and Porcello all set to become free agents. The club, though, is still worried about the short term, hopeful of a late playoff push despite now falling a season-high six games under .500.
Doing so may require its top six rotation options to make all their starts from here on out, lest circumstances force the team to dip into its depth yet again.
“There’s a lot of adversities everywhere, and we’re aware of that,” Rojas said, adding that he’ll “never” get to the point where he doesn’t trust his pitchers. “When we lose, it hurts. For everyone in that room, it just hurts. They feel every loss. But at the same time, they have the ability to bounce back.”
Continuing, Rojas vowed: “Every day is a must-win for us, and we’re prepared to do exactly that.”