SAN FRANCISCO — The Mets’ 9-3 loss to the Giants on Wednesday was a story of three starters.
The starter they used was lefthander Thomas Szapucki, who allowed four home runs and recorded four outs. After the last of those long balls — Evan Longoria’s second in as many innings, the back half of a back-to-back sequence with Mike Yastrzemski — manager Buck Showalter was walking to the mound to remove Szapucki before Longoria finished his trot around the bases.
The starter they didn’t use was Trevor Williams, a righthanded swingman who instead made a long relief appearance behind Szapucki. He gave up one hit in 3 2⁄3 shutout innings and positioned himself well for the next time the Mets need a No. 5 starter (Tuesday).
And the starter they wanted a couple of months ago was the Giants’ Jakob Junis, who held the Mets to two runs in six innings. Wondering about the health of their starting five and the reliability of their next five, the Mets had Junis as one of their free-agent targets early in spring training, a person familiar with their interest said.
They liked that even as a five-season major-league veteran he still could be optioned to the minors, a degree of flexibility that every club values.
So while Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Tylor Megill remain absent because of injuries, the Mets (29-17) remain in figure-it-out mode with fill-ins. This marked just their second series loss and the second time they have lost consecutive games this season (previously April 10-11).
“They’ve done a good job for us and we’ll continue to look within,” Showalter said. “It’s not a topic of conversation. It’s not some slogan like ‘next man up.’ It’s what we do. As a coaching staff, as a team, as an organization, you know it’s part of it.”
With injuries and a doubleheader last Saturday necessitating a spot starter, the Mets had few choices other than Szapucki, approximately the No. 9 option on the season-opening rotation depth chart. He has pitched well in mostly abbreviated outings for Triple-A Syracuse but learned quickly that the majors are not the minors.
In his first big-league start (after pitching once in relief last season), he gave up nine runs, seven hits and three walks in 1 1⁄3 innings. “Obviously, it sucks doing something like that,” Szapucki said.
Showalter added: “They were on about everything he threw. So when he did throw a strike, he never really got into the rhythm of the game.”
One of the Mets’ other options was Williams, who has not allowed a run over three or more innings in three of his past four outings. He was pitching on what for a starter would be short rest after facing the Rockies four days prior. Showalter said they did not consider giving him the ball to begin the game because they had asked him to do that recently.
“It’s one thing to be able to do it a couple times,” Showalter said. “Szapucki had the rest to pitch deeper into the game. The Giants didn’t cooperate.”
With the Mets interested, Junis instead signed with San Francisco, telling reporters in mid-March that there were “a couple of other teams in the mix” and he liked that the Giants (24-19) were on the technological cutting edge of helping pitchers get the most out of their abilities. And he has been for them everything that the Mets sought: effective (2.76 ERA), versatile (four starts, two long relief appearances behind an opener) and flexible (two separate stints with the major-league team).
Francisco Lindor smacked a solo home run against Junis in the sixth inning, but the Mets managed little else. Showalter noted that 70 of Junis’ 86 pitches were off-speed, an unusually high ratio. That included a bunch of changeups, especially early.
“Obviously, that was the plan going in,” Showalter said. “We didn’t do a whole lot, but you could tell what he was going to do about 10 pitches into the game. He did it, and we couldn’t make the adjustment today. Usually we’re really good about that. If somebody wants to continue down that path, I like our chances.”