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Lugo happy in 'pen, but starting is goal

Cano keeps playing, keeps hitting; six relievers vie for one bullpen spot
@AnthonyDiComo
March 16, 2019

JUPITER, Fla. -- Make no mistake: Seth Lugo wants to start. His whole career, Lugo has hoped to start games. That won't ever change. This, however, is a different sort of spring for Lugo. For the first time, Lugo is not stretching out as a starting pitcher in Spring Training.

JUPITER, Fla. -- Make no mistake: Seth Lugo wants to start. His whole career, Lugo has hoped to start games. That won't ever change.

This, however, is a different sort of spring for Lugo. For the first time, Lugo is not stretching out as a starting pitcher in Spring Training. Instead, he's trying to prepare his body for the grind of coming out of the bullpen, already appearing in as many Grapefruit League games -- seven -- as he did last spring.

"I'm not content where I'm at, but I'm happy where I'm at, if that makes sense," Lugo said. "Especially with the team we have now, I just want to be a part of it."

While the Mets haven't eliminated Lugo as a possibility to join their rotation later this year, they have made it clear they value him more as a reliever. Throughout his career, that's where Lugo has most consistently thrived, posting a 4.06 ERA as a starter and a 2.38 mark as a reliever. Like many pitchers, Lugo has seen a significant velocity jump out of the bullpen, averaging 92.5 mph on his four-seam fastballs as a starter and 94.5 mph in relief.

As a result, the Mets consider Lugo a dynamic weapon at the back end of their bullpen, serving as a fireman capable of pitching multiple innings whenever the Mets need them. Lugo has recorded more than three outs in three of his six appearances this spring, though his four-run blowup in Saturday's 11-6 loss to the Marlins increased his ERA to 4.66 from 1.04.

Before that blip, Lugo had been routinely excellent in Grapefruit League play, striking out 12 with one walk in 9 2/3 innings.

"Mostly, I've been just trying to feel what I was feeling last year," Lugo said.

Over the offseason, the Mets acquired starters Walker Lockett, Hector Santiago and Rule 5 pick Kyle Dowdy, who, along with Corey Oswalt and Drew Gagnon, represent the bulk of New York's rotation depth beyond their starting five. Should injury arise, the team will likely turn to someone from that group before asking Lugo to return to a starting role.

But if and when the Mets do ask, Lugo will be ready. Now 29 years old, Lugo says he still has "personal goals, and they're mainly starter-based."

Specifically?

"I want to do something badass," Lugo said. "I've had six up, six down before in relief. What else can you do? I've had a save, struck out the side. But I've always wanted to throw no-hitters, pitch complete games."

Cano as iron man

For the fourth straight game, Robinson Cano was in the Mets' starting lineup on Saturday, finishing 3-for-3 with a double to increase his Grapefruit League average to .457.

That Cano has started so many spring games in a row is unusual for a veteran, but something he requested as a way to prepare his body for the rigors of the regular season. Last week, Cano asked manager Mickey Callaway to play him in six straight games -- four at second base, and two at designated hitter.

"I want to make sure that my body is getting used to it," said Cano, who played the first 14 years of his career in the American League. "This is the National League. You don't get a DH. So I want to be able, when the season starts, not to feel any soreness or anything like that in my legs."

Roster cut

The Mets optioned Eric Hanhold to Minor League camp, leaving six relievers competing for, realistically, one bullpen spot: Dowdy, Santiago, Tyler Bashlor, Ryan O'Rourke, Tim Peterson and Daniel Zamora.

The Mets intend to carry a seven-man bullpen on Opening Day. Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, Robert Gsellman and Lugo are locks, with Luis Avilan highly likely to claim the sixth spot.

Up next

Wary of overexposing their top starting pitchers to the Nationals so close to Opening Day, the Mets will shift Jacob deGrom, Familia and Wilson to the back fields Sunday for a Minor League game in Port St. Lucie. In deGrom's place, Santiago will start the team's 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Nats in West Palm Beach.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.