ST. LOUIS — During spring training, when anything was possible and (almost) everybody was healthy, one of the themes espoused by Mets decision-makers was the quality of their starting pitchers.
No, not Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard and other regulars. Those guys are good, of course, but the Mets wanted to hype their depth starters, a contingent led by Corey Oswalt, Walker Lockett and Drew Gagnon, an important group given the questions about Jason Vargas’ ability and inevitable injuries to the rotation.
The Mets, who entered Saturday tied with the Phillies atop the division, made it to game No. 20 before calling on a sixth starter, needing someone to fill in for deGrom (sore elbow) for what they expect to be one start. But righthander Chris Flexen got hit around in the Mets’ 10-2 loss to the Cardinals.
Flexen gave up six runs (five earned) in 4 1/3 innings and allowed seven hits and four walks. He didn’t strike out anybody.
“Overall, obviously failed to do my job,” Flexen said. “I got beat on a few pitches up, struggled putting guys away with two strikes, but all in all, I went out there and battled, stayed aggressive and attacked these guys.”
The Cardinals’ Miles Mikolas, an All-Star last year in his major-league return after three seasons in Japan, held the Mets to two runs in eight innings. The Mets (11-9) didn’t have a hit until the fourth, when Robinson Cano singled, and didn’t have a run until the seventh, when Amed Rosario tripled to score Jeff McNeil.
Mikolas also grounded a two-run single up the middle in the second inning, making the Mets pay for intentionally walking Kolten Wong ahead of him to load the bases with two outs.
“If we get the pitcher out, this game could be a whole different story,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “That was a big blow to us.”
Exacerbating Flexen’s abbreviated outing: The Mets used their best of relievers to cover five innings in a win Friday night, after Vargas lasted only four frames in arguably his best game of the young season. This time, Luis Avilan, Jacob Rhame and Paul Sewald each allowed the Cardinals to tack on runs.
Jose Martinez (3-for-5, three RBIs) and Yadier Molina (2-for-3, two RBIs) had strong games.
Saturday just about ended a rough road trip for the Mets’ depth starters. In Atlanta last week, Oswalt got hit around for five runs in 3 2/3 innings of relief after Vargas lasted one out. A few days later in Philadelphia, when Steven Matz didn’t get anybody out, Gagnon came out of the bullpen for 5 1/3 innings, but allowed six runs (five earned). And Flexen didn’t give the Mets much chance Saturday.
Altogether, that group has a 10.13 ERA with nine walks and seven strikeouts.
“Probably not what we would want, but I thought they all battled,” Callaway said. “Gagnon the other day probably pitched better than his line looked. Flexen, if we get the pitcher out, throws a lot better than the line looked. But it’s still the line. You still gotta get big outs and keep runs off the board the best you can.”
Among the other depth rotation options from spring training, Lockett is out with elbow soreness. Hector Santiago, who hasn’t been an effective big-league starter since 2015, has a 4.20 ERA for Triple-A Syracuse. And Rule 5 pick Kyle Dowdy got claimed by the Rangers at the end of spring training. Oswalt gave up two runs in a seven-inning complete game for Syracuse Saturday. He has a 3.55 ERA there.
Callaway is waiting for one of those pitchers to take advantage of their opportunities. The Mets optioned Flexen to Syracuse after the game and called up lefthanded reliever Daniel Zamora in his place.
“We’ll continue to bring guys up and give them chances. There’s openings. Somebody’s got to step up and take it,” Callaway said.
“To be a championship team, a playoff-caliber team, usually somebody sitting down in Triple-A steps up, right? And helps you out. We need someone to step up.”