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Despite loss, Jason Vargas continues to show improvement for Mets

Mets pitcher Jason Vargas delivers against the Orioles

Mets pitcher Jason Vargas delivers against the Orioles during the first inning of a game at Citi Field on Tuesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Jason Vargas made his seventh start for the Mets on Tuesday night and it went a little like his season has gone. It began very badly but the longer it lasted, the better it looked.

The lefthander had faced only four Baltimore batters before the Orioles went up 2-0. However, that ended up being all they’d get off him before he was lifted for a pinch hitter in the fifth. Vargas gave up five hits and a walk, striking out four.

He gave the Mets a chance to win, but ended up with the loss when the offense didn’t produce.

Good starts going for naught has been a bit of a theme for the Mets of late. In their last 17 games, Mets starters have thrown 92 innings to a 2.54 ERA. But they haven’t had the expected impact: the Mets are 5-12 in those games.

“If we can continue to get Vargas to pitch like that and the rest of the rotation to do what they’re doing — the last 17 games they have a two-something ERA — you can’t expect more than that,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “I am really pleased with where the rotation is now.”

Vargas (2-4, 7.71 ERA) won 18 games for the 2017 Royals and was the Mets’ big offseason pitching acquisition. He missed the season’s first month after surgery for a broken hamate bone on his glove hand. When he was finally able to join the rotation it was unsightly; he had a 13.86 ERA after his first three starts.

Things have looked better in his last four outings. Vargas hasn’t gone deep into games — he completed five innings in three of them — but has pitched 18 innings to a respectable 3.50 ERA.

“It was kind of a weird start,” he said when asked about his season. “I’ve been a more consistent guy out there lately.”

As recently as two weeks ago, the Mets were evaluating whether Vargas might best serve them out of the bullpen. It was an idea that appeared to be getting momentum after Seth Lugo was given a spot start and threw four scoreless innings against the Cubs. Callaway ended that speculation over the weekend by returning Lugo to the bullpen, where he has been near-indispensable. Lugo pitched three scoreless innings after Vargas came out on Tuesday.

Trey Mancini, Adam Jones and Manny Machado opened the first inning with singles off Vargas to score one run. Danny Valencia scored Jones on the next at-bat with a sacrifice fly. Vargas halted it there, getting Mark Trumbo and Jonathan Schoop on a strikeout and fly out respectively. Baltimore threatened again in the second inning with two runners in scoring position and one out. Mancini hit into what became a tag-out at the plate and Jones popped out to keep the score 2-0.

“Getting through the second inning and not letting them push another across was a nice little momentum shift,” Vargas said.

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