TORONTO -- No sooner did the Rogers Centre gates open to the public Tuesday than scores of fans came streaming through, many of them bolting toward a section of seats behind the first-base dugout. There, they held up signs and waved caps and baseball cards, hoping for an interaction with
TORONTO -- No sooner did the Rogers Centre gates open to the public Tuesday than scores of fans came streaming through, many of them bolting toward a section of seats behind the first-base dugout. There, they held up signs and waved caps and baseball cards, hoping for an interaction with longtime Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista.
Only later did the first of an oversized gaggle of scouts come filtering in. That group, too, was there to see Bautista -- but not only him. The talent evaluators flew into Toronto to watch Zack Wheeler, who delivered 6 1/3 quality innings in the Mets' 8-6 loss to the Blue Jays, and Asdrubal Cabrera, who hit a two-run homer, and perhaps even Devin Mesoraco and Wilmer Flores, both of whom also went deep.
With each passing week, the Mets grow increasingly popular as one of the few clear sellers in a league full of contenders -- a situation that their bullpen meltdown later Tuesday served to underscore, dropping them to their 23rd loss in 29 games. While much of the narrative surrounds Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, the reality is that, given the Mets' desire to compete in 2019, neither of those two is likely to be traded. Selling off lesser pieces, such as Wheeler, may be more palatable for the Mets.
"Your name's going to get brought up," Wheeler said. "You've just got to put that in the back seat and keep riding. If it happens, it happens -- obviously, I wouldn't be here. But some things, you just can't help. They're out of your control. So it's whatever to me."
No stranger to trade rumors, Wheeler boosted his stock on Tuesday, retiring the first nine Blue Jays he faced in succession. Not until the fifth inning did Toronto crack Wheeler, when former Mets teammate Curtis Granderson doubled home Russell Martin. The only other run against him was inherited, following a Bautista two-base error in the seventh.
That turned out to be the beginning of the Mets' undoing. Reliever Anthony Swarzak, who allowed the inherited run, gave up two walks and a double in the seventh, recording merely one out. Robert Gsellman then served up a game-tying, three-run homer to Yangervis Solarte, before Tim Peterson allowed a go-ahead two-run shot to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the eighth.
The Mets' first baserunner came far earlier in the game. The subject of a video tribute prior to the contest, Bautista drew the first of his three walks in the first inning, then came around to score on Cabrera's homer off Marco Estrada. An inning later, Mesoraco hit his own two-run homer against Jake Petricka and two innings after that, Flores went deep off Preston Guilmet.
Cabrera and Mesoraco can be free agents after the season, giving the Mets incentive to trade them. Flores still has one more year of team control, but his unique skillset -- he crushes lefties, and isn't half-bad against right-handers, either -- will make him attractive to teams seeking bench help.
Then there is Wheeler, a potential consolation prize for teams hoping to land deGrom or Syndergaard. Over his last 11 starts, Wheeler owns a 3.76 ERA, striking out more than a batter per inning. His value to other teams has increased in kind.
"You know if teams aren't doing well at the Trade Deadline, things might happen," Wheeler said. "I'll just keep my head down, do my job and try to get better each time out."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Swarzak attacked: All four baserunners Swarzak has inherited since returning from the disabled list last month have come around to score, including Randal Grichuk in the seventh inning Tuesday. In total, Swarzak faced four batters in the seventh, walking two and allowing a double. He threw just 11 of his 21 pitches for strikes.
Mets manager Mickey Callaway said that Swarzak, who first found consistent big league success after nearly doubling his slider usage two years ago, doesn't seem to trust his fastball -- a contention that Swarzak disputed. The reliever, who signed a two-year, $14 million deal over the offseason, instead said he's been searching for his command -- which escaped him on a run-scoring wild pitch to Teoscar Hernandez -- since missing nine weeks due to a strained oblique.
"I just need to execute," said Swarzak, who has a 6.28 ERA. "I will execute again. There's no doubt about it in my mind. Hopefully, no one else loses faith in me either along this process."
Bautista walked three times in five plate appearances in his return to Rogers Centre, increasing his rate to one free pass every 4.84 plate appearances -- well ahead of his career mark of 7.04. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, Bautista's 20.6 percent walk rate would lead the Majors.
Among qualified hitters, Michael Trout is best with a 19.7 percent rate. Bryce Harper leads the National League at 18.5 percent.
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
A pair of blows to the head forced Mesoraco out of the game, though the Mets believe he escaped long-term harm. In the fifth inning, an errant Wheeler pitch struck Devon Travis and ricocheted off of Mesoraco's helmet. The Mets' training staff checked Mesoraco on the field, but he was allowed to stay in the game.
An inning later, Mesoraco was struck again with a backswing. He remained in the game once more, but felt enough discomfort between innings for the Mets to replace him with Kevin Plawecki. Back in the clubhouse, Mesoraco successfully passed the team's concussion protocol, and is day-to-day.
"As of right now, his head is OK," Callaway said. "He just got beat up pretty bad tonight."
HE SAID IT
"It feels like nothing has changed. It's a good feeling to be back. Obviously, a lot of emotions and a lot of memories. You like to be able to enjoy those. It has been great so far." -- Bautista, on his return to Toronto after 10 seasons with the Blue Jays
Rookie Corey Oswalt will make his second career start, and third big league appearance, when the Mets return to Rogers Centre on Wednesday for a 7:07 p.m. ET series finale. Given just three hours notice before his last start, Oswalt allowed six runs in 2 2/3 innings. He'll look for better results when he takes on right-hander Marcus Stroman, a native Long Islander.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.