With the Mets approaching immense humiliation — and Nathan Eovaldi looking to make history — Brandon Nimmo ended the tension and turned Sunday into just another loss, 9-0 to the Rays.
Nimmo’s line-drive single to right with none out in the seventh inning gave the Mets their first baserunner, ending Eovaldi’s bid for a perfect game. That was one of two hits, alongside Devin Mesoraco’s ninth-inning single, for the Mets, who sent 29 batters to the plate, two more than the minimum.
The Mets (35-51) haven’t won a series since May 18-20 against the Diamondbacks, 15 series ago.
“You almost get lucky and win a series,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “But it just hasn’t happened for us.”
The first inning was the turning point. C.J. Cron’s three-run home run into the second deck in leftfield gave the Rays a lead that proved insurmountable against a Mets lineup that hasn’t scored since Jose Bautista’s walk-off grand slam Friday.
Chris Flexen (0-2, 12.79 ERA) offered little in his first major-league start this season, with the Rays rocking him for five runs and five hits in three innings. He walked three and struck out two.
“It’s just lack of command,” Flexen said. “I’m not throwing enough strikes, not throwing enough quality strikes when I need them. Falling behind guys, you’re left with nothing to do but come back over the middle of the plate, and I’ve been getting burned a lot.”
That Flexen got the start at all was a testament to the Mets’ starting pitching depth, or lack thereof. After a half-season of attrition, what looked like an organizational strength during spring training — with seemingly eight legitimate rotation options — has led to starting Flexen on Sunday, giving Corey Oswalt the ball in the second game of Monday’s doubleheader and needing another spot starter for Tuesday. P.J. Conlon is a primary option for that game, though the Mets haven’t named their pick.
Where did the depth go? Matt Harvey, one of the starting five to open the year, is long gone. Rafael Montero’s season ended with Tommy John surgery in March. Noah Syndergaard and Jason Vargas are hurt. Robert Gsellman has become a bullpen staple, and Seth Lugo is better off in the pen with him, the Mets say.
As much as consistent starting pitching has been a strength for the struggling Mets, they are lacking in quality backups. It should get better when Syndergaard and Vargas — rehabbing with the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones Sunday and Monday, respectively — return, potentially this weekend against the Nationals.
“Gsellman and Lugo, not having them available to start ends up hurting your depth by a couple of spots,” Callaway said. “It’s not just not having the starting pitching depth. It’s a combination of people probably not being as effective as we thought and some injuries have taken their toll.
“The frustrating thing is we didn’t throw enough strikes today to even give ourselves a chance. You have to throw the ball over the plate. We just didn’t do that today. You’re not going to win like that no matter who’s pitching.”
Former Yankee Eovaldi, who is eight starts deep in his return from August 2016 Tommy John surgery, struck out nine and walked none in seven innings.
Perfection was possible until Nimmo led off the seventh.
“I was extremely aware of it,” Nimmo said. “Credit to him for pitching well, but you never want to get no-hit. You never want to be a part of that.”