PHOENIX — Thursday brought another Mets loss, 6-3 to the Diamondbacks. It wasn’t particularly different from any of the bunch that preceded it during this prolonged stretch of poor play. Lefthander Jason Vargas was OK, the bullpen was less so, and the lineup struggled to score.
An updated tally of the Mets’ slide: 18 losses in 22 games. They are not sellers yet. But the Mets, who went 11-1 in their first dozen games, are 1-11 in their past dozen. In between, 16-25.
General manager Sandy Alderson acknowledged this week that time is running out for this group to turn it around. That is not a secret in the clubhouse.
“Everybody in here knows enough how this thing works. The business side of it plays out how it does,” Vargas said. “We definitely have to start winning ball games. That’s just the bottom line. We do that, we put everybody in easy situations to make decisions. It’s just about us playing good baseball and putting ourselves in a situation to succeed, being able to rally and feed off good things that happen.”
Thursday also brought a positive development for at least one individual: Michael Conforto, who blasted a 445-foot home run — the second longest of his career — in the sixth. He also nearly gave the Mets a rare late lead, when his 390-foot drive to center fell short of the wall in the eighth.
Conforto returned to the top of the Mets’ lineup in recent days out of team need, not individual merit. Mired in a slump that left him with one hit — a grounder to shortstop — in more than a week, Conforto has worked with hitting coach Pat Roessler since last weekend on a particular change to his approach. With each pitch, Conforto is trying to wait a tiny fraction of a second longer to let the ball get deeper in the strike zone before swinging.
That helps him swing (or not) with more confidence, make better contact and go the other way. His shot Thursday went to left-center.
“My contact points were out in front of the plate, and my strength is getting the ball back there,” Conforto said. “Things are in sequence better, and obviously swinging at better pitches is a big part of hitting as well.”
Said Callaway: “He put some good swings on the ball. [Roessler] really feels like he’s coming around. We definitely saw it tonight.”
Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario joined Conforto in going deep, but it wasn’t enough. The Diamondbacks hit four home runs. The Mets have hit 21 long balls in their past 19 games, but 17 of them have been solo shots.
This was the first time since June 1 — 10 games ago — that the Mets scored in more than one inning in a game. That was also the last time the Mets scored more than three runs.
The Mets’ only non-homer hit was a single by Dominic Smith. Righthander Matt Koch, a former Mets minor leaguer, held his former organization to two runs in six innings.
Vargas allowed three runs in five innings, avoiding further damage despite plenty of hard contact to lower his ERA to 7.31. The Diamondbacks had five hits and two walks against him, striking out five times.
Arizona scored single runs in three consecutive innings. Ketel Marte’s second-inning rocket single to leftfield scored John Ryan Murphy easily when Jose Bautista bobbled the ball. Paul Goldschmidt homered in the third, pulling a 3-and-1 fastball on the inner edge of the plate to leftfield. In the fourth, David Peralta followed suit with a solo shot to center.
Vargas pitched for the first time since June 5, but on short notice. After skipping Vargas’ previous turn in the rotation, the Mets had him lined up for Saturday until Steven Matz developed a blister and couldn’t take the ball Thursday, pushing Vargas up by two days — a call they made Wednesday night. Vargas threw a heavy “up-and-down” bullpen session — used to simulate innings — Tuesday and finished this outing at 73 pitches.
Although his numbers on the year are still unsightly, Vargas has been competitive for going on a month, lasting exactly five innings and allowing three or fewer runs in four of his past five starts. He has a 3.91 ERA in that span.
Hansel Robles allowed one run in 1 2/3 innings, his first appearance since June 2. He pitched a perfect sixth, then walked Marte to begin the seventh. Marte scored when Paul Sewald walked Nick Ahmed with the bases loaded.
In between, lefthanded specialist Jerry Blevins retired neither of the two lefthanded hitters he faced. Daniel Descalso singled, and Jon Jay was hit by a pitch. Of the 41 lefties Blevins has seen this year, 16 have reached base.
“Our overall team, he still is one of the best guys we have to get lefties out,” Callaway said. “You can say small sample size or whatever. It’s definitely a legitimate struggle right now, but if he doesn’t get to face lefties, he’s never going to get to face lefties. He has to go out and face lefties and right the ship.”
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