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A starter at heart, Mets reliever Seth Lugo not giving up on return to rotation

Mets relief pitcher Seth Lugo delivers against the

Mets relief pitcher Seth Lugo delivers against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the eighth inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

When Seth Lugo started making relief appearances as a Mets rookie in 2016, one of the coaches told him to try pitching out of the stretch even with no men on base because that’s what relievers do.

Lugo tried it.

In 2019, Lugo is the Mets’ most indispensable reliever. But you may notice he pitches out of the windup with no one on base.

“I’m a starter,” Lugo said on Saturday night. “Gotta keep my windup.”

For all his success out of the bullpen — the righthander has pitched 14 consecutive scoreless innings — he still pines to be a starter.

“I’m a starter who’s in the bullpen,” said Lugo, who earned the win in the Mets’ 3-0 victory over the Dodgers on Saturday night, striking out three in a scoreless eighth. “All my personal goals are starter-based. I’d like to win 20 games. I’ve still never had a nine-inning complete game. I had a seven-inning one in the minors in a doubleheader. All my goals are more starter-based.”

The Mets know this.

“Everybody knows it,” Lugo said.

The Mets might have at least one rotation opening in 2020 if Zack Wheeler leaves as a free agent, and who knows what’s going to happen with Noah Syndergaard, who could be traded. So what do the Mets’ decision-makers tell Lugo when he asks about starting games rather than finishing them?

“It’s kind of along the lines of ‘hopefully in the future one day. We need you now,’ ’’ Lugo said. “I know where I’m needed. Realistically, I’ll have to see where the offseason acquisitions go. My hopes aren’t too high on that. In my opinion, I’ve got a lot of baseball left in me. There’s plenty of time for that in the future.”

Lugo, who has replaced the ineffective Edwin Diaz as manager Mickey Callaway’s go-to reliever, is 6-3 with five saves and a 2.75 ERA. In 72 innings, he has allowed 49 hits, walked 16 and struck out 94.

Will those amazing numbers continue if Lugo becomes a rotation stalwart in 2020?

“I think you could definitely see him as a starter at some point,” Callaway said. “I think it depends on the makeup of the team. What does the team need? He can excel in any role out there. He’s a great pitcher. He can be a multiple-inning reliever. He can be just a closer. He could be a starter. I think he could fulfill whatever the team needs.”  

Extra bases

Callaway was asked if he might consider a start for Jed Lowrie, who is 0-for-3 with two strikeouts since being activated from a season-long stint on the injured list. “Right now, we know he’s an option,” he said. “He’s going to continue to be. We’re trying to get in the playoffs and we’re going to continue to play the players we think are going to allow us to do that.” . . . The Mets called up lefthander Donnie Hart from Triple-A Syracuse for his second stint with the club. Hart threw one perfect inning in Pittsburgh on Aug. 4, a day after he was claimed on waivers from the Brewers. To make room on the 40-man roster, righthander Eric Hanhold was designated for assignment.

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