NEW YORK -- About two hours prior to game time on Thursday, a line of relievers filed out of a back room in the Mets' clubhouse, where they had conducted their routine pre-series meeting. They may as well have brought nametags with them. Four of those pitchers were not on
NEW YORK -- About two hours prior to game time on Thursday, a line of relievers filed out of a back room in the Mets' clubhouse, where they had conducted their routine pre-series meeting. They may as well have brought nametags with them. Four of those pitchers were not on the roster just two days earlier. Two had never before set foot in Citi Field as Mets. One was pitching for an independent league team just five weeks ago.
Anonymous no more, many of them went on to play central roles in a 5-1 loss to the Cubs, which exposed the underside of their patchwork bullpen. The first three Mets pitchers to enter in relief of Seth Lugo all allowed runs. True to form, two of them weren't on the team last weekend.
At least this time, the Mets anticipated leaning heavily on their bullpen. Heading into the game, Lugo was on a limit of four innings or 65 pitches, whichever came first. Right on schedule, Lugo threw 60 pitches in four shutout innings, handing a scoreless game to his bullpen.
That's where things soured. The first man out, Hansel Robles, allowed an upper-deck shot just foul to Benjamin Zobrist, then a two-run homer -- fair, this time -- two pitches later. The Mets' second reliever, Jerry Blevins, gave up a two-out double to Javier Baez and a run-scoring single to Kyle Schwarber. The third, Buddy Baumann, opened the seventh inning with a walk, a Zobrist double and a Jason Heyward RBI groundout.
"It was a challenge," manager Mickey Callaway said of navigating the game, noting the Mets used every pitcher they had available to them in anything less than an emergency. "But I thought they did a good job of keeping us in the game."
The Mets' offense, meanwhile, did little to counteract Chicago's steady flow of offense. Jose Quintana limited them to three hits in six innings, and only Brandon Nimmo, with a solo home run off Brian Duensing in the eighth, managed to crack the Cubs' bullpen.
And so the Mets' gassed relief corps absorbed a loss amidst circumstances somewhat beyond their control. Mostly satisfied with their bullpen depth heading into last offseason, the Mets made just one major addition, signing Anthony Swarzak to a two-year contract. But Swarzak has missed the past two months with an oblique injury. Another trusted setup man, AJ Ramos, is also on the disabled list due to shoulder troubles, while a third, Blevins, has struggled to replicate his prior successes.
Exacerbating the issue is the fact that the team's starters have routinely exited early. Over the final three games of the Mets' road trip, their starters combined to pitch 10 innings, forcing their bullpen to make up the other 15 1/3. The Mets carried a nine-man bullpen -- two more than the long-established industry standard -- into Thursday's game to give them options, cutting their bench down to just three players.
"The depth of our bullpen has been tested," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "There's no question about that."
Pressed into starting duty after Noah Syndergaard landed on the DL, Lugo retired eight of the first nine batters he faced. He escaped a two-on, two-out jam in the third inning and, while he admitted to growing fatigued in his final inning, Lugo retired his final three batters in order.
Callaway would not guarantee Lugo another start, saying "in a perfect world," he would rejoin the bullpen. But with Syndergaard expecting to miss one or two outings, it appears likely that Lugo will receive another turn.
"I've always been a starter," Lugo said. "I'm a lot more comfortable starting games. ... But I'm not worried about auditions or anything."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Known in the Minor Leagues for a fastball that reached 101 mph, Mets reliever Gerson Bautista hit 100 for the first time in the Majors, on a fastball that Kristopher Bryant cracked into right field for a single. Bautista joined Syndergaard as the only Mets pitchers to reach 100 (without rounding up) since the start of last season.
Nimmo's home run pushed his slugging percentage to .574, its highest point in over a month. He is one of seven players with at least 100 at-bats, an on-base percentage of .400 or better and a slugging mark of .500 or better. The others are Michael Trout, Aaron Judge, Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado and Brandon Belt.
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
The Mets ran catcher Devin Mesoraco through their concussion protocol after he took a Baez backswing off his helmet. Team athletic trainers detected no issue with Mesoraco, but they will continue to monitor him.
"I feel normal," Mesoraco said. "No issues."
HE SAID IT
"As long as our pets' heads don't fall off." -- Callaway, when a leak sprung from the ceiling during his pregame press conference, a day after a fire broke out at Citi Field
Injuries to Syndergaard and Steven Matz have only heightened the importance of right-hander Zack Wheeler, who will start at 7:10 p.m. ET on Friday against the Cubs at Citi Field. Owner of a 6.43 ERA in May, Wheeler will look to start fresh in June opposite righty Tyler Chatwood.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.