ATLANTA — As former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel remained unemployed Saturday night, Mets lefthander Jason Vargas lasted one-third of an inning in an 11-7 loss to the Braves, the shortest start by a Mets pitcher since Vargas (also one out) last August.
Of Vargas’ six batters, he walked three, including Dansby Swanson with the bases loaded. Two got hits. The other, Freddie Freeman, flied out when he sent an 86-mph fastball over the middle of the plate to deep centerfield.
Vargas, who had his previous turn in the rotation skipped as the Mets managed multiple days off, allowed four runs Saturday and has given up 10 in 6 1⁄3 innings (14.21 ERA) this season.
“He’s just not getting outs at this point,” said manager Mickey Callaway, who was ejected by plate umpire Alfonso Marquez in the first inning for arguing balls and strikes. “That’s really all I can say. He goes out there and battles and does the best he can. The effectiveness wasn’t there, so we had to get him out of there.”
Vargas said he was “just kind of confused” about his aborted outing.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t out there long enough to evaluate what was wrong,” he added.
Keuchel, a two-time All-Star who had a 3.74 ERA in 34 starts last season, has been throwing 95-pitch simulated games once every five days, a source said.
The Mets (9-5) have kept in touch with Keuchel’s agent, Scott Boras, into the regular season in case his price drops into a palatable range. But there has been no expectation from either side that the Mets and the 31-year-old lefthander actually will agree to terms.
Does Callaway think the Mets need to add an external option?
“That’s really not for me to decide,” he said. “I’m happy with the players we got in that room and that’s who I focus all my energy on.”
At SunTrust Park, meanwhile, both teams dipped into their bullpens by the top of the second, and the performances from the long relievers made the difference.
Corey Oswalt, the Mets’ top rotation depth option, labored through 3 2⁄3 innings of relief, allowing five runs, six hits and four walks. He threw 43 pitches during Atlanta’s four-run second inning.
Touki Toussaint, who entered after the Mets reached Sean Newcomb (1 1⁄3 innings) for four runs in the top of the second, allowed an unearned run in six innings. He struck out seven and received a standing ovation from the home crowd upon departing in the eighth.
Callaway said the Mets will discuss what to do about Vargas’ rotation spot. Relievers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman “are always in the discussion,” he said. But using either of them as a starter means the Mets would “probably need another quality bullpen arm.”
With another day off Thursday, the Mets could wait a week and a half before using a fifth starter again, allowing time for a decision about who will draw that assignment — be it Vargas, Oswalt or anybody else.
“We have to have other options, and our other option came in tonight and threw 90 pitches in 3 2⁄3 and gave up five,” Callaway said. “So that’s kind of where we’re at. Keep on trying to get these guys to improve and throw the ball over the plate and be more effective.”
Notes & quotes: A slumping Robinson Cano was not in the starting lineup for the first time this season, a scheduled day off. Neither Cano nor Callaway expressed concern over Cano’s early struggles, including a .182/.237/.327 slash line . . . The Mets scored at least six runs for a franchise-record seventh game in a row . . . Pete Alonso appeared to engage the Braves’ mascot, Blooper, in a pregame push-up contest. It’s not clear who won.
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