PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Mets manager Mickey Callaway said Zack Wheeler’s precarious rotation spot was not going to come down to how he pitched on Thursday night.
Good thing for Wheeler. But will it come down to how Seth Lugo pitched instead?
Lugo threw four shutout innings after Wheeler finished a rough spring by allowing five runs (three earned) in two innings in the Mets’ 12-5 victory over the Nationals at First Data Field.
Wheeler gave up seven hits, walked none and struck out three, including his final two batters in a 58-pitch performance.
Wheeler has an 8.10 ERA in five outings. He has allowed 22 hits and 11 runs (nine earned) in 10 innings.
“I’m highly disappointed,” he said. “Got to keep my head up, though.”
On the plus side, Wheeler is healthy, and control hasn’t been his main bugaboo. He has walked two and struck out 14. But the Nationals hit him hard. Three errors in two innings by the Mets didn’t help.
“It seemed to me like he was getting himself probably in fastball counts and throwing a fastball and they were hitting it pretty hard,” Callaway said. “Everyone has to get ahead to be successful.”
Enter Lugo, who got ahead and was very successful. He relieved Wheeler and allowed two hits, walked one and struck out five to lower his ERA to 2.87. He also had a two-run single.
Lugo was supposed to pitch one inning. He ended up throwing 46 pitches, including a six-pitch third and a four-pitch fourth.
“I feel like I’ve been throwing the ball well lately,” said Lugo, who added that his main goal is to make his first Opening Day roster. That seems like a job done.
Wheeler could end up in the bullpen or as the No. 1 starter at Triple-A Las Vegas. Neither option is appealing to the 27-year-old.
Of the possibility of going to the minors, Wheeler said: “I don’t know. That’s a tough question. I’m just concentrating on staying healthy and trying to get innings up here right now and just trying to figure it out.”
Then there’s Jason Vargas, who suffered a non-displaced fracture of the hamate bone in his right (non-throwing) hand while attempting to catch a line drive on March 17.
Vargas returned to camp on Thursday sporting a hard bandage after surgery on Tuesday to remove part of the fractured bone. Vargas played catch — well, the throwing part — and neither he nor Callaway has ruled him out for the start of the season.
“We’re still trying to wait to see what Vargas can or can’t do the next couple days,” Callaway said before the game. “So I think we’ll have more clarity after Wheeler pitches tonight, after we see what Vargas can do in the next few days, and then we’ll be able to make — hopefully — a decision.”
The biggest impediments for Vargas would be fielding his position and batting. His plan for dealing with another line drive back at him?
“Hopefully,’’ he said, “I don’t have any more hit at me for a while.”
Notes & quotes:.