Lugo perfect on rocky day for Mets

August 26th, 2020

NEW YORK -- Seeking rotation help and all but out of answers, the Mets on Tuesday began the process of stretching out as a starting pitcher -- something Lugo had wanted for years, but a plan the Mets had resisted given how valuable Lugo was to them as a reliever.

In his return to the rotation, Lugo proved just as useful, firing three perfect innings in Game 2 of a doubleheader at Citi Field. But the Mets removed him after merely 39 pitches, and reliever Jared Hughes cracked for two runs shortly thereafter in a 3-0 loss to the Marlins. The Mets also dropped Game 1, 4-0, suffering the dual indignities of finishing 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position during the doubleheader and allowing a delayed steal of home plate in Game 2.

“This is just one of those days that you have to flush,” Mets first baseman Dominic Smith said.

Lugo was brilliant, retiring five of the nine batters he faced via strikeout. But the Mets, despite feeling comfortable letting Lugo throw 50-60 pitches in his rotation debut, did not want him to go more than three innings regardless of pitch count -- something he had not done since June 2018. So the Mets turned to their bullpen and watched the first batter to face Hughes draw a walk, the third hit a single and the fourth, Brian Anderson, rip a two-run double to give the Marlins the only lead they would need.

“We felt that we didn’t want to go more than that,” manager Luis Rojas said of Lugo’s workload. “We felt it was enough stress for him.”

A starter for parts of three seasons for the Mets from 2016-18, Lugo was successful in that role, but even more so in the bullpen. Shifted full-time into a multi-inning relief role midway through '18, he posted a 2.57 ERA from that point forward, striking out triple-digit batters each of the past two seasons. Lugo proved so valuable, in fact, that the Mets decided to keep him as a reliever despite whatever rotation needs arose.

All the while, again and again, he made it known that he wanted to be a starting pitcher, so it was frustrating for Lugo to watch others continually receive chances over him. By this spring, Lugo said he had stopped lobbying Mets officials for rotation work simply because they knew how he felt about the situation. By midsummer, even with Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, Michael Wacha and David Peterson all removed from the rotation for various reasons, Lugo figured he wouldn’t get a shot. The Mets promoted Walker Lockett, Corey Oswalt and finally Robert Gsellman over him, reasoning yet again that Lugo was too valuable as a reliever.


Then they changed their minds, recognizing the urgency of a 60-game season. Not only did the Mets insert Lugo into the rotation, but they committed to keeping him there for at least the rest of this season.

“It caught me by surprise,” Lugo said. “But when they ask me to do something, that’s part of the job of playing baseball. You do what your coach tells you.”

Mets 'negligent' on steal of home
What irked Rojas the most about his team’s doubleheader loss was what unfolded in the sixth inning of Game 2. After Jon Berti drew a lead-off walk, he stole second against the battery of Jeurys Familia and rookie catcher Ali Sánchez. Then he stole third. Then, as Sánchez made a soft, arcing throw back to Familia on the mound, Berti bolted for home.

Familia fired the ball back to Sánchez, but not in enough time to nab Berti, who half-ran, half-stumbled into home.

Rojas, in particular, was upset with third baseman J.D. Davis, who remained stationary at deep third base as Berti crept toward home. Had Davis tiptoed closer to the bag between pitches, Rojas indicated, Berti would not have had the same opportunity to bolt.

"One of the things that distinguishes this team that we're playing against, they're aggressive -- almost reckless to a point,” Rojas said of the Marlins, noting that he spoke to Davis afterward about the play. “But on the other hand, I thought that we weren't heads up. We've always got to be on our toes for that kind of baseball because that's how as a team, they play on the field."