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Mets counting on Jason Vargas as their fifth starter

Mets starting pitcher Jason Vargas throws during the

Mets starting pitcher Jason Vargas throws during the first inning of a spring training game against the Cardinals on Feb. 28 in Jupiter, Fla. Credit: AP/Jeff Roberson

JUPITER, Fla. — The Mets keep signing special advisers for the front office, with ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza on Tuesday joining Al Leiter and John Franco, who were added Monday.

What trailblazing general manager Brodie Van Wagenen apparently isn’t looking to add is competition for fifth starter Jason Vargas. So even with free agents Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez among those arms still available and Corey Oswalt currently the Mets’ sixth starter, the club continues to pin its hopes on Vargas, whom the previous front office signed to a two-year, $16 million contract before the 2018 season.

Van Wagenen wasn’t with the Mets when Sandy Alderson signed Vargas, who is a client of Van Wagenen’s former agency, CAA.

Vargas went 7-9 with a 5.77 ERA in 20 starts in an injury-plagued 2018. If he’s that guy, the Mets are in trouble in the fifth spot. But if he’s the guy who went 18-11 with a 4.16 ERA for the Royals in 2017, then the Mets are set.

On Tuesday, Vargas went 2 1⁄3 shaky shutout innings against the Marlins in his second start of spring training in the Mets’ 3-1 loss at Roger Dean Stadium.

The lefthander departed after allowing a one-out single in the third inning to Brian Anderson. It was the fourth hit and fifth baserunner allowed by Vargas, who faced 11 batters on a sunny, windy day.

“I felt good,” Vargas said. “Body felt really good. Didn’t get as many early outs and pitch count got up more than last time .  .  . I didn’t feel as crisp as far as each pitch going in the exact same spot that I would like it to. Just those days when you don’t feel as crisp, for me, anyway, it’s really important to focus on pitching down. Just trying to keep it below the knees and down and be able to get in a good groove where I wasn’t giving in and getting the ball up.”

Vargas worked out of trouble in the first inning after allowing a one-out double to Anderson and walking Neil Walker by striking out Peter O’Brien and getting Starlin Castro to pop to second.

In the second inning, Vargas allowed singles to Jorge Alfaro and Lewis Brinson before striking out Austin Dean. No. 9 batter Rosell Herrera lofted a fly ball to short center, and Keon Broxton raced in and made a nice backhanded catch before throwing to second to double off Alfaro to end the inning. Vargas did a glove slam with catcher Devin Mesoraco.

Two batters later, Vargas’ day was done after 48 pitches (31 strikes).

“I think he made some pretty good pitches,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “I think their hitters did a good job of flipping some balls through that 5-6 hole over there, but other than that, he did a pretty good job.”

The Mets’ rotation depth is Oswalt, who went 3-3, 5.85 in 17 outings (12 starts) last season; Walker Lockett, a rookie righthander who has impressed in camp, and lefthander Hector Santiago, who went 6-4, 4.50 in 49 appearances (seven starts) with the White Sox in 2018. Chris Flexen was sent to minor-league camp Tuesday as part of the first cuts. The Mets are grooming Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman as relievers only in spring training.

Among the other free-agent starters still available are James Shields, Edwin Jackson and old friend Bartolo Colon, none of whom is expected to land more than a minor-league deal. Clay Buchholz signed with the Blue Jays on Tuesday for $3 million.

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