ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Wary of trusting Joey Lucchesi, their purported No. 5 starter, the Mets opted for creativity again Saturday, attempting to beat the Rays at a version of their own game by using a reliever to start and seeing what happens after that.
It didn’t work.
The Mets lost to the Rays, 12-5, after Tampa Bay took advantage when Lucchesi did pitch.
After Drew Smith tossed the opening two innings, Lucchesi entered in the third. Lasting 1 2/3 innings, he faced nine batters. Four scored.
"I know personally I’m really good, but I’m not showing it right now," said Lucchesi, a lefthander with a 9.19 ERA in six games. "I gotta man up and get out on my own, get out of this rut. I know I can do it. I know there’s haters out there, but it’s whatever. I’m going to keep pushing myself."
The Mets (18-15) began the fourth inning with a three-run lead. Then it got ugly in a hurry, four consecutive batters reaching via walk, double, single and double. The last of those was Willy Adames’ hard low liner through the middle for a tying two-run double.
When Sean Reid-Foley replaced Lucchesi, Austin Meadows put the Rays (22-19) ahead with a double. Randy Arozarena capped the scoring with a single.
"Mentally, I felt great," Lucchesi said. "But things didn’t go my way."
With Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery) and Carlos Carrasco (torn right hamstring) out until at least next month, the Mets need a fill-in fifth starter indefinitely. Lucchesi has made three starts, but the past two times through the rotation, the Mets have preferred to use him as part of a bullpen game, limiting his exposure to the opposing lineup.
Asked whether the Mets might try someone else in Lucchesi’s place, manager Luis Rojas pointed out that they have a more pressing rotation question to answer. They need to decide what to do — call up someone or go with another bullpen game — Tuesday against Atlanta in place of Jacob deGrom, who is on the injured list with a tight lower back.
"Those are the things that are in range right now versus talking about this spot," Rojas said.
Will Lucchesi get another shot next time?
"Right now, I gotta say yes, having Jake on the IL," Rojas said.
The Rays blew it open with a six-run eighth inning.
With nobody out and the bases loaded by Jacob Barnes, Jeurys Familia entered. Tampa Bay scored four runs on two consecutive chopped ground balls, each bouncing 4 feet in front of home plate and ending up in shallow leftfield.
The first hopped off the artificial turf and over shortstop Francisco Lindor, just ticking his glove. The second was just out of reach to his right in a shift. Both became doubles.
"You expect Francisco to make all those plays," Rojas said. "He’s a really good defender, always on his toes, thinking ahead."
Pete Alonso added: "As unfortunate as it is, hits happen. Whether they’re smashed 110 [mph] or whether they come off the bat weird or take a weird hop, in the game of baseball, hits happen."
Lindor homered in the eighth and struck out three times. It was the first time in his career that he had consecutive three-strikeout games.
The Mets reached lefthander Shane McClanahan — one of the Rays’ top prospects, pitching his fourth major-league game — for four runs in 5 1/3 innings. He allowed six hits and one walk and struck out seven.
Jose Peraza hit a go-ahead three-run home with two outs in the second inning.
Tampa native Pete Alonso tacked on a solo shot in the third, a no-doubter to leftfield. It was his first ball in play after striking out in five consecutive at-bats to begin his homecoming series at Tropicana Field.
As he approached home plate, Alonso pointed to his family sitting behind the Rays’ dugout. They were the only people in their section standing and cheering.
"It was one of those balls where I knew I got it as soon as the ball touched the bat," Alonso said. "It was super fun."
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