The Mets have moved left-hander Steven Matz to the bullpen and will shift setup man Seth Lugo back into a starting role, manager Luis Rojas revealed after last night’s game (Twitter link via Deesha Thosar of the New York Daily News). Lugo will take the ball to start tonight’s game.
The 29-year-old Matz was excellent in his first start of 2020 but has since been clobbered for 22 runs on 28 hits (eight homers) and five walks in just 17 innings. He hasn’t gotten out of the fifth in any of his past three starts and is toting a 9.00 ERA in 23 frames overall. Lugo, meanwhile, has once again been sharp out of the ’pen, with a 2.61 ERA and an 11-to-2 K/BB ratio in 10 1/3 frames. By subtracting him from the late-inning mix, the Mets are betting that others like Justin Wilson, Jeurys Familia, Brad Brach, Dellin Betances and most importantly Edwin Diaz will be able to find consistent success as games draw to a close. Lugo has a career 2.53 ERA and 2.88 FIP in 188 2/3 relief innings, compared to a 4.06 ERA and 4.16 FIP in 168 1/3 innings as a starter.
It’s the latest shakeup in a Mets season that has been punctuated by rotation troubles. The Mets believed they’d stockpiled a strong group of starters, one through six, but only Jacob deGrom has performed as hoped. Noah Syndergaard didn’t pitch after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May, and Marcus Stroman opted out of the 2020 season entirely. Matz has stumbled through one of the bleakest stretches of his career, while reclamation projects Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha haven’t paid dividends. Porcello, to his credit, has had some rough luck on balls in play and pitched much better since a disastrous Mets debut. Wacha is on the injured list due to shoulder inflammation.
The Mets’ options beyond that sextet have long appeared to be lacking, although 2017 first-rounder David Peterson proved to be a bright spot … until he landed on the injured list due to shoulder troubles of his own. It’s notable that a recent MRI confirmed that there’s no structural damage in Peterson’s shoulder (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand), but he still won’t be an option until next week.
Aside from Peterson, fallback options like Corey Oswalt and Walker Lockett haven’t impressed. The club has instead shifted Robert Gsellman and now Lugo back into the starting mix. It wasn’t long ago that there was some spirited debate over whether that pair would be starters or relievers for the long haul. Both settled in as bullpen pieces, with Lugo in particular emerging as a high-end option. But the inadequacies among current Mets starters have now forced both right-handers back into the rotation picture.
Lugo will join deGrom, Porcello, Gsellman and (once healthy) Peterson in a rotation that can’t resemble anything the Mets’ front office might have anticipated heading into the season. But for all their pitching woes, the Mets remain in the playoff hunt thanks to a strong offense that ranks second in MLB with a 122 wRC+. They’ve rattled off three straight wins, and while they’re sitting at a pedestrian 12-14 on the year, the good news for them is that the rest of the NL East looks similarly underwhelming. The Braves lead the way at 14-11, but their own rotation has been decimated by injury, leaving ample space for the Mets to close the mere two-and-a-half game gap that separates them.
Given that the Wilpon family is reportedly deep in the process of fielding offers to sell the club, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Mets approach the looming Aug. 31 trade deadline with a clear buyer’s mentality. This could be the last opportunity for current ownership to secure the World Series title that alluded them when they fell to the Royals in 2015, and it only stands to reason that they’d take one final shot while they have the chance.
As for Matz himself, his future is decidedly murky. He could be a potential change-of-scenery candidate with the deadline looming, and even if he sticks with the Mets, he’ll have limited opportunities to turn things around as a low-leverage bullpen option. He’s on a $5MM salary for the 2020 season and will be arbitration-eligible for a third and final time this winter. It’s hardly a given that the Mets will want to allocate the necessary resources to retain him through the arbitration process.