NEW YORK -- Another short outing from Jason Vargas on Thursday -- this one was more his defense's fault than his own -- at least gave the Mets a chance to take an extended look at their bullpen. Earlier Thursday, the Mets called up hard-throwing Bobby Wahl, who will vie for high-leverage opportunities alongside Drew Smith, Tyler Bashlor and other youngsters. The top performers from that group will enter next spring with an advantage over the others.
In that sense, the Mets continued the process of sorting through their bullpen during a 4-2 loss to the Braves, their third straight. Wahl made his Mets debut two weeks after the team traded for him, hitting 98 mph on the radar gun. Robert Gsellman, whose long-term future the Mets see in the bullpen, followed with a perfect ninth.
"We should have some pretty good relievers," manager Mickey Callaway said. "We've done a great job of acquiring these guys. They're not fully developed yet. We're going to continue to make sure that we do that for them."
Allowing four runs in five innings, Vargas actually lowered his ERA from 8.36 to 8.23, though the bulk of the damage occurred due to defensive issues behind him. In the first, Michael Conforto slammed into the left-field fence as he attempted to field Ronald Acuna Jr.'s hit down the line, playing it into a triple. Acuna scored one batter later, on Ozzie Albies' single.
In the third, the Braves took advantage of a Wilmer Flores misthrow to plate three more runs -- two on a Johan Camargo double. Because Flores' throw was not technically an error, all of the damage against Vargas was earned. And while the Mets fought back with a Brandon Nimmo leadoff homer and a Luis Guillorme RBI single, they did nothing else versus Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz.
The defensive issues also resulted in a high pitch count for Vargas, who exited a two-run game after the fifth -- an opportunity for the Mets to distribute four relatively high-leverage innings among their relievers, with Paul Sewald and Jerry Blevins preceding Wahl and Gsellman.
Before the game, assistant general manager John Ricco said the Mets will pay close attention to the innings totals of Gsellman and Seth Lugo in particular, not wanting to overextend them in a lost season.
"We want to see some of the younger arms get some more time out there," Ricco said.
That should mean even more opportunities down the stretch for Wahl, Smith and Bashlor, and, eventually, Triple-A relievers Jacob Rhame and Gerson Bautista. Before the Mets go shopping this winter -- they'll again need to acquire relief help, as they did in signing Anthony Swarzak last December -- they need to know which of those pitchers can help them in 2019.
"Really, we're just continuing to evaluate what they can do as far as their pitchability," Callaway said, "so we can see what we have."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Pickoff gone awry: The Braves' third-inning rally might never have occurred if not for Flores' wild throw, which negated a well-timed pickoff throw by Vargas. Although Flores' relay easily beat Acuna to second base, it was high enough to force Jose Reyes to jump off the bag to grab it.
Flores also made a pair of fielding mistakes in the first inning of Tuesday's 25-4 loss to the Nationals and committed an error in the eighth inning Wednesday. Callaway said he plans to give his first baseman a day off Friday to clear his head -- a notion with which Flores did not necessarily agree.
"I'm always ready to play," he said.
Occurring in his lone at-bat, Guillorme's pinch-hit RBI single extended his streak to 49 consecutive plate appearances without a strikeout, the longest such run in the Majors.
Wahl's debut was brief and effective. Dialing his fastball as high as 98 mph, and mixing in a low-90s slider and low-80s curve, Wahl showcased why the Mets feel he has back-of-the-bullpen ability. The team acquired Wahl, third-base prospect Will Toffey and $1 million in international pool space late last month for Familia.
Coming on with one out in the eighth, Wahl popped up Adam Duvall, then whiffed Camargo on an 84-mph slider.
"Just to do my job, to come in and get those two guys out, just to help the team out was big," Wahl said. "Just to be here and get back to the big leagues, it's pretty cool."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Mets' best chance to construct a comeback unfolded in the sixth, when Conforto drew a one-out walk and Flores followed with a single. But when Flores saw Conforto race from first to third, he tried to snare an extra base as well, reaching second at around the same time as Acuna's throw. Umpire Gary Cederstrom initially ruled Flores safe, but the Braves won the challenge, and the rally fizzled a batter later.
HE SAID IT
"Things don't always go the way you want, but you've got to deal with the situation at hand. I've gotten back-to-back starts without anything really going wrong, so that's a plus." -- Vargas
Forget double-digit wins; Mets ace Jacob deGrom (5-6, 1.82 ERA) just wants to have a winning record. He will try to even things out when the Mets and Braves continue a four-game series Friday with a 7:10 p.m. ET game at Citi Field. deGrom will start opposite right-hander Anibal Sanchez (5-3, 3.00).