NEW YORK -- Of all the statistics capable of explaining the Mets' inconsistencies this season, perhaps none is more telling than this: Entering Monday's play, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard were 8-1 with a 2.37 ERA. All other Mets starters were 3-11 with a 6.37 mark.Reluctant to criticize, even manager
NEW YORK -- Of all the statistics capable of explaining the Mets' inconsistencies this season, perhaps none is more telling than this: Entering Monday's play, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard were 8-1 with a 2.37 ERA. All other Mets starters were 3-11 with a 6.37 mark.
Reluctant to criticize, even manager Mickey Callaway has admitted that the Mets won't improve if others don't contribute. He may as well have been speaking directly to Jason Vargas, whose two-year, $16 million contract came with expectations that he would be a stabilizing force for the back half of the rotation.
Through his first three starts, Vargas was anything but, posting a 13.86 ERA that prompted the Mets to skip his next outing, arrange a simulated game and pray it would be enough for Vargas to right itself.
One start may not provide definitive proof that it worked, particularly against the league's bottom-ranked offense. But Vargas gave the Mets easily his best start of the season in Monday night's 2-0 win over the Marlins -- their fourth straight -- striking out seven over five innings at Citi Field.
"That was much more Vargas-like," Callaway said. "Obviously I've been watching him for quite some time, and that's what I remember."
Perfect his first time through the batting order, Vargas did not allow a baserunner until Martin Prado led off the fourth with a single. He permitted another hit and a walk in the fifth, stranding both runners on base, before the Mets removed him for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the inning.
"I thought his changeup had good depth to it," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "We didn't do a lot."
At the time of Vargas' departure, the Mets led, 1-0, thanks to Asdrubal Cabrera's third-inning RBI double. That was all Marlins starter Elieser Hernandez allowed in five innings, but the Mets added an unearned insurance run on Wilmer Flores' pinch-hit RBI single in the seventh.
It added up to a breezy victory for the Mets, who had not won consecutive games in over a month until their current four-game streak. Syndergaard and deGrom, whom the Mets recently split up in their rotation, started two of the four, each winning in dominant fashion. But to build a streak, Callaway knew, the Mets would need value from elsewhere in their rotation.
Enter Vargas, who broke a bone in his glove hand in Spring Training, missing the first month of the regular season and struggling enough upon his return that his rotation spot came into question. Spending the gap between starts trying to add life to his pitches, Vargas returned to the mound armed with better command and sharper stuff; he generated eight swings and misses on 37 changeups, throwing 53 percent offspeed pitches.
In the process, Vargas lowered his ERA from 13.86 to 9.87.
"It wasn't necessarily something that had never happened before," Vargas said of his struggles. "I could definitely look at the bigger picture and understand that I've done this a lot of times. You have questions in your mind each time when you go out what's going to happen, because no matter how good your stuff is or how bad it is, anything can happen that night. But it was really nice to get off to an early rhythm."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Almost immediately after Vargas exited, things threatened to unravel for the Mets. After retiring the first two batters of the sixth inning, Paul Sewald allowed a walk and a hit, then lefty specialist Jerry Blevins walked Justin Bour to load the bases. The Mets' third pitcher of the inning, AJ Ramos, ran the count on pinch-hitter Derek Dietrich to 2-0 -- the first ball coming on a cross-up with catcher Devin Mesoraco -- before roaring back to strike out his former teammate and end the inning.
"I was in control of that whole situation," Ramos said. "I didn't feel like I was under pressure. I think when you have a good feel for the zone, you know where the ball's going, you're just trying to figure out a way to get him out. I was able to do that tonight."
With a different teammate on the basepaths, Cabrera's third-inning double might not have resulted in an RBI. As it was, Amed Rosario blazed from first to home in 9.02 seconds, the fastest such time of any Mets player in the four years Statcast™ has been recording data. Rosario reached a top speed of 29.4 feet per second -- an elite number -- on the play.
"He can be a superstar," Cabrera said. "He has the talents to be a very good player."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Both reliever Seth Lugo's scoreless streak, which reached a career-best 14 innings, and the Mets' shutout bid came into jeopardy when Starlin Castro hit a two-out triple in the eighth. The next batter, Brian Anderson, sent a 104.7-mph liner screaming into left field, where Brandon Nimmo laid out to snare it. The ball had a 45-percent catch probability, according to Statcast™.
"I thought I wasn't going to have to dive for it, but then it had a little topspin to it, and that's what made me go to the ground," Nimmo said. "I'm just glad whenever it goes in there and stays in the glove. But it's nice to have a diving catch every now and then, too."
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
Crouched behind the plate in the fourth, Mesoraco took an Anderson backswing off his left elbow. He didn't think much of it at the time, but he discussed the issue on-field with assistant trainer Joe Golia when his arm began swelling up several innings later -- the result, Mesoraco believes, of a burst fluid sac in the elbow. Mesoraco stayed in the game and later underwent X-rays, which were negative. He is day to day with a bruise.
"Other than stiff, it's fine," Mesoraco. "No issues. Should be good."
HE SAID IT
"That's the reason we signed him, because we felt like we're going to know what we get with him. He's going to go out there and throw strikes. He's going to compete. He's going to keep you in the game, even if it's only for five innings." -- Callaway, on Vargas
Another Mets pitcher who could use a change of fortune is Zack Wheeler, who has allowed 15 runs in his last three starts. Wheeler will take on left-hander Caleb Smith when the Mets and Marlins return to Citi Field at 7:10 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.