MILWAUKEE -- For a team built around pitching, the Mets find themselves, a little more than one-third of the way through this season, with precious few pitchers they can trust.
The Mets signed Jason Vargas during the offseason to provide stability for their rotation. Vargas has given them anything but, allowing five runs in three innings of their 17-6 loss to the Brewers on Saturday to bloat his ERA to 10.62.
Last summer, the Mets traded for AJ Ramos to add depth to their bullpen. Ramos has instead proven to be a powder keg, allowing three runs on Saturday after issuing a walk-off walk in Friday's loss.
Those two did not account for even half of Milwaukee's offense on a summery day at Miller Park, but their struggles underscored the fact that some of the sturdiest pitchers the Mets thought they employed coming into the season -- Vargas and Ramos were All-Stars in 2017 and '16, respectively -- have offered little but headaches. Outside of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in the rotation and Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman in the bullpen, no Mets pitchers have done much to earn manager Mickey Callaway's trust.
"Guys struggle," Callaway said. "It is what it is. It's a long baseball season. I've been around it before. So I haven't lost confidence in them. They just haven't gotten the job done up to this point."
So concerned are the Mets with Ramos that Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland called him off the field during batting practice Saturday, holding a closed-door meeting with the struggling reliever. (Neither Callaway nor Ramos would go into detail about what they discussed.) The Mets already attempted to fix Vargas, skipping one of his rotation turns earlier this month in an effort to get him right.
None of it has worked.
Saturday's game started off well enough for the Mets, who took a 3-0 lead against Milwaukee starter Chase Anderson before Vargas threw a pitch. But the southpaw gave back all three runs in the bottom of the first inning, walking two and allowing two hits. The Mets again went ahead on solo homers from Brandon Nimmo in the second inning and Michael Conforto in the third, but Vargas coughed up that lead, too.
When asked afterward about his confidence level, Vargas said: "It's definitely not at the highest point that it's ever been, but it's definitely not at the lowest, either. Over the course of time, you learn how to deal with failure and success. … For me, it's just going back to work in between this next start and continuing to make pitches. Hopefully, it falls our way next time and you don't get beat 17-to-whatever very often."
By the later innings of that 17-to-whatever drubbing, the Mets were forced to lean heavily on seldom-used right-hander Chris Flexen, who allowed the final seven runs -- three earned, due to a Jose Reyes error -- in two innings.
The Mets had intended for Flexen to pitch multiple innings in the second game of Monday's doubleheader in Atlanta, but now they must find someone else to fill that role -- perhaps P.J. Conlon, who has a 6.58 ERA at Triple-A Las Vegas. Because the Mets have so few rotation options, Callaway said Vargas' job is not in jeopardy. They simply must hope the pitching staff they assembled this winter can show marked improvement -- and quick.
"We'll just continue to support them," Callaway said. "Everybody has bad games. We had several that had bad games at the same time tonight, so it kind of skewed the score, big time. We have to chalk it up to that."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The Mets' 3-0 first-inning lead evaporated in a matter of minutes, when Vargas walked Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun with one out. Two batters later, Travis Shaw hit an RBI single to right, and then Hernan Perez followed with a two-run double down the left-field line.
"It was early," Yelich said. "We hadn't even come to bat yet. The way we feel as a team right now, it was just chip away. We didn't necessarily think we had to get all three back there in the first, but chip away, and we felt that as the game unfolded, we would be able to be in it at the end."
Added Brewers manager Craig Counsell: "We were relentless on offense today."
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
Second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera "tweaked his knee" during the middle innings of the game, according to Callaway, though the team does not consider his issue to be major. The Mets have Cabrera "penciled in" to start the series finale at Miller Park, but they will re-evaluate the situation Sunday morning. Cabrera declined to discuss his issue with reporters.
HE SAID IT
"There's no way to get out of something like this but to pitch. The more you sit and think about it, the more you analyze it or over-analyze it, the worse it gets, because you start to create stories in your head. … Nobody's going to feel sorry for me but me. That doesn't matter. So what I have to do is get out there and throw a scoreless inning and build off that. And that's the goal right now." -- Ramos, on his struggles
For the past month, Zack Wheeler has alternated good starts with bad ones. He'll look to put two straight in the good column when he starts the Mets' 2:10 p.m. ET series finale Sunday at Miller Park, pitching opposite right-hander Jhoulys Chacin. Last time out, Wheeler struck out nine over six innings against the Marlins, allowing one earned run.