Like an unfortunate metaphor for Jason Vargas’ season, dark clouds loomed and thunder boomed just beyond Citi Field in the opening moments of his outing Tuesday against the Reds. And then the rain came, turning those opening moments into Vargas’ only moments in perhaps the strangest outing of his strange season.
In the Mets’ 6-1 loss to the Reds, Vargas pitched for about 9 minutes. A thunderstorm delayed the game for 1 hour, 40 minutes. When the rain relented, Vargas yielded to Paul Sewald and a de facto bullpen game for the Mets (46-65).
Vargas’ night: 14 pitches, four batters, one out, three hits, three runs.
His ERA on the season: 8.75.
“Really frustrating. It’s tough for him right now,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “He can’t get into a routine. We haven’t been able to get him out there every five days. We think we’re about to, and then this happens.”
The Mets’ bullpen managed all right after Sewald allowed Vargas’ two runners to score. Sewald and four rookies gave up three runs — one on a pinch-hit homer by former Met Dilson Herrera — in 8 2/3 innings. Cincy’s Sal Romano held the Mets to one run in six innings, and they totaled only four hits on the night.
Put another way: Vargas was charged with more runs in one-third of an inning than the Mets scored all night.
“Things definitely haven’t gone my way or our way as a team very often,” Vargas said. “Tonight was just the weather, just another layer of it.”
Crew chief Kerwin Danley said the umpires — in conjunction with the league office — decided to start the game on time because they thought the storm would arrive later than it did or miss the ballpark entirely. But the elements thwarted Vargas’ latest attempt at Callaway’s simplified goal for him the rest of the season: just pitch.
“We need him to be built up innings-wise so he can get out next year and haul a bunch of innings for us,” Callaway said. “We all feel confident that Jason, when he gets going, gets on a good schedule, that he’s going to be competitive.”
This season has been abnormal in every way for Vargas, right from the beginning, when he signed with the Mets after spring training had already started. Since then: two injuries (neither to his pitching arm), skipped and delayed starts, and downright ineffectiveness.
Vargas’ start — if you can call it that — Tuesday was his second normal turn through the rotation in a row, one shy of his season high. Because he didn’t really get a chance to pitch, the Mets might bring him back on short rest.
Callaway said Tuesday afternoon his hope for Vargas for the rest of the season revolved around eating innings, though pitching deeper would also mean a greater degree of effectiveness. Vargas hasn’t seen the sixth inning in any of his dozen outings this year and averaged about 4 1/3 per start before Tuesday’s outlier.
The Mets’ theoretical contention in 2019 hinges on many maybes. Among them: Maybe Vargas will bounce back to be a serviceable starting pitcher. His numbers this year aren’t those of a starting pitcher on a contending team.
“You can’t ever predict how a guy’s going to come into next year based off what he did the end of the year before,” said Callaway, who has spoken in recent weeks of using August and September as a chance to evaluate the Mets’ roster to see what they have for 2019. “We would like [Vargas] to have some success at the end of the season to be able to build up his innings so when he comes back next year, if he’s in a good spot and everything’s going well, he can continue to pitch and try to be the guy he was [in 2017].”
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