BALTIMORE -- From their vantage point in the third-base dugout, the Mets watched Jason Vargas deliver two- and four-seam fastballs down in the strike zone, dumping in a liberal number of changeups and curves. He worked quickly, buzzing through the Orioles' lineup without much issue.
This was the Vargas the Mets thought they acquired when they committed two years and $16 million to him this past winter. This was the Vargas they hope can still be part of a contending team in 2019.
That Vargas took a no-decision in the Mets' 6-3 loss at Camden Yards on Tuesday mattered little to a club seeking any sort of evidence that he's primed to improve.
"Obviously, he's going to be with us next year," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "He signed a two-year contract. But we'd like to see some things. We'd like to know, going into next season, if he's on his normal schedule, that he's going to be the pitcher that he was in the past.
"And I think he will be. I think tonight is what he's capable of doing."
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Pitching into the sixth inning for the first time this year, Vargas cracked for an Adam Jones game-tying homer with one out, then watched from the bench as Bobby Wahl served up a go-ahead solo shot to Chris Davis in the seventh.
Consider that progress. The only other run against Vargas came in the fourth inning, when the left-hander allowed a double, two walks and a Mark Trumbo sacrifice fly. His no-decision extended his winless streak to seven consecutive starts, lowering his ERA to 8.10.
"I definitely felt in command of what I was doing," Vargas said, adding that he hadn't felt that sensation since last season. "It was definitely nice to be out there and feel that way."
Equally quiet early against Orioles starter Andrew Cashner, the Mets used two free passes to their advantage in a two-run fifth. Kevin Plawecki and Amed Rosario both singled home runs off Cashner, who completed seven innings.
The resulting loss was no criticism of Vargas, whose issues have stemmed at least in part from his disjointed schedule. In Spring Training, a broken right hand forced Vargas to the disabled list. Command issues prompted the Mets to skip him in the rotation early in the season, then a right calf strain landed him back on the DL. Last time out, Vargas recorded merely one out before a lengthy rain delay forced him from the game.
The Mets hope that now, at long last, Vargas can resume a regular schedule over the season's final seven weeks. In Callaway's words, the Mets want to see enough improvement to convince them he can be a productive member of their rotation next summer. Vargas simply wants to be "the guy that I was expected to be, not going out there and being uncompetitive."
"And I think," Vargas said, "tonight was a real good step in that direction."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Late-game trouble: After Davis' homer, Wahl walked two batters, prompting Callaway to bring in Paul Sewald. The right-hander allowed a Renato Nunez run-scoring single, then coughed up two more runs on Timothy Beckham's homer in the eighth.
All told, Sewald allowed five hits in one inning. Since posting a 1.98 ERA in April, he has produced a 6.09 mark, bouncing frequently between the Majors and Triple-A Las Vegas.
"What I'm seeing right now is he's really struggling getting the ball in," Callaway said of Sewald. "A few of those pitches tonight were supposed to be in, and just leaked back over the plate. He really doesn't have that conviction that he's going to throw the ball in, or just off the plate in, and he really needs to do that to help himself out."
HE SAID IT
"You've just got to keep getting out there. Unfortunately it hasn't been that way this year, and the times that I was out there early, I just didn't pitch that well. It was tough to try to remedy both problems at one time. Tonight was nice to feel that way." -- Vargas, on his disjointed season
Zack Wheeler will try to continue the best run of his career when he returns to the mound for the two-game series finale vs. the Orioles at Camden Yards on Wednesday. Wheeler, who is 5-0 with a 2.22 ERA over his last eight starts, will oppose another former blue-chip prospect, right-hander Dylan Bundy, in the 7:05 p.m. ET game.