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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mets need an impact player, not Wilmer Font, on pitching staff

Nationals look much smarter in their rotation than the Mets do right now.

Mets starting pitcher Wilmer Font throws to the

Mets starting pitcher Wilmer Font throws to the Washington Nationals in the second inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in Washington. Photo Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

WASHINGTON — No offense to Wilmer Font, who didn’t ask to be the Mets’ hole-plugger, but what happened Wednesday night at Nationals Park is the difference between paying $140 million for rotation help or an emergency May trade with the savvy Rays.

You get what you pay for.

The struggling Nationals aren’t looking like a World Series contender, or even a team that could win the NL East. But no one can fault them for the winter decision to add Patrick Corbin, who struck out 11 in eight innings Wednesday night to beat the Mets, 5-1.

Every four days, the Mets have a starter that potentially can do what Corbin did to them. When they’re all healthy, of course. Their front four, at peak performance, are capable of matching up with any team in either league.

But that’s not where the Mets happen to be at the moment. Or where they were, we should say, because Wednesday night was very likely — hopefully? — the last start anyone sees from Font for a while. Trading for Font was an act of desperation when both Steven Matz (forearm) and Jason Vargas (hamstring) wound up on the injured list, leaving the Mets with no readily available fill-in.

At this point, we know what you’re thinking. Um, what about Gio Gonzalez? Could he not have helped avoid this Font fiasco? Not really. Because in a case of terrible timing, the Mets were a fully functioning rotation when they made their bid for Gonzalez, and he took the guaranteed starting role with the Brewers rather than risk being a swingman in Flushing.

And while we’re on the subject of Gonzalez, he’s shaping up to be worth that incentive-laden, $2-million base contract. Through his first three starts, Gonzalez has a 1.69 ERA with a 0.938 WHIP. But like we said, try to forget about Gonzalez. The Mets took their shot. It clanged off the rim.

Let’s get back to Wednesday night, when the Mets’ plan was to have Font build on last week’s debut in San Diego, where he allowed two runs in four innings in the eventual 3-2 loss to the Padres. Mickey Callaway & Co. could have punted on Font until the weekend in Miami — inserting Zack Wheeler and Matz for D.C. instead.

“It was mostly about the way he pitched last time,” Callaway said. “He had a good outing, and you didn’t want to sit him for eight, nine days.”

That extended break couldn’t have produced anything worse than Font’s brief but explosive cameo against the Nationals, who raked him for a very loud six hits and five runs in 2 1/3 innings. Somehow, Font surrendered only one homer, Victor Robles’ bomb leading off the third, but it seemed like every time the Nats made contract, it was noisy and solid.

“It was just the control of all my pitches,” Font said afterward. “I didn’t have any control.”

And was there any specific pitch that caused him trouble?

“They were all bad,” Font replied.

OK, then. We’ll put that in the non-competitive outing category. To be fair, Corbin dominated the Mets all night. Font could have held the Nats to a pair of runs and they still would have lost. But torching the game that early, as Font did, can be demoralizing, thus making Corbin that more effective.

“The score wasn’t outrageous,” Callaway said. “But it didn’t feel like we were in the game because of what Corbin did.”

Ideally, Font now goes to the bullpen, where he presumably will either pitch better or be less destructive in shorter spurts. But that’s assuming Vargas and Matz return on schedule this weekend and the Mets can keep their rotation healthy for a while, which is no small feat for this franchise.

Looking a bit further into the future, however, it seems that help could be on the not-too-distant horizon — right in the Mets’ proverbial backyard in Binghamton. As Newsday’s Tim Healey reported, the front office is closely monitoring the progress of Ward Melville product Anthony Kay, who has a 1.24 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in eight starts coming off Tuesday’s seven-inning shutout for the Double-A Rumble Ponies.

Kay, at 24, has the maturity to go with the skill deserving of a jump from Binghamton, and the Mets aren’t exactly flush with in-house options. For those still holding a candle for Dallas Keuchel, who should be signing somewhere right after the June 3 draft, we don’t envision the Mets outbidding anyone for the Scott Boras client’s half-season.

Keep an eye on Kay. And hope you don’t have to see Font start again anytime soon.

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