PORT ST. LUCIE Seth Lugo knew what was happening. The Mets versatile righthander had never gone into a spring training camp without feeling like he was fighting for his career. This spring, he read the stories that said the Mets were concerned about putting him in the bullpen because he was pitching with a partially-torn ulnar collateral ligament, and he made a point to address them. The last two weeks, he read how Jason Vargas would probably start the season on the disabled list and that Zack Wheeler needed to prove himself to slide into Vargas spot.
So Lugo was aware what was on the line Thursday night when he went out to clean up after Wheelers rough last Grapefruit League start. Lugo, who had already been assured of a bullpen spot by manager Mickey Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland, pitched four scoreless innings Thursday to earn a spot start to begin the season.
When they asked me to go out for the fourth inning, I kind of started to think this is what was happening, Lugo said of his audition for a start. I kind of figured out what was going on around here.
He is expected to start April 3 against the Phillies at Citi Field.
Lugo said Sunday he will stay behind when the Mets break camp this afternoon and throw in a minor-league game. He will join the team in New York for Wednesdays workout and prepare to make the fifth start as Vargas recovers from surgery to remove a fractured hamate bone from his right (non-throwing) hand.
After an initial setback from his surgery, Vargas was able to get back in the bullpen Sunday. The lefty threw 47 pitches and while he is likely to begin the season on the disabled list, he will travel to New York with the team tonight.
He looked good, Eiland said. His arm will be fine, its just a matter of the (wound from surgery) healing and him being able to use his glove.
Vargas will do an up and down in the bullpen in New York Wednesday, meaning he will throw, sit down and throw again to simulate innings. In his next bullpen session, Vargas will have batters standing in to give him a gauge of where to place his pitches.
Then we will send him to the nearest minor-league team we have and maybe one start or two, hell be back, Eiland said. We just dont want to rush him.
Ive seen it too many times when a pitcher has a setback in spring and you rush him to get ready for the season, he never catches up. You look up in August and he is still not right. We dont want to risk that.
His turn in the rotation would next come up on April 9 at Miami, if Eiland keeps his rotation on turn through two off-days in the first two weeks.
Vargas had surgery Tuesday in New York. Friday, the painkillers he was prescribed for the surgery upset his stomach, sending him to a local emergency room. He was scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Saturday, but was too dehydrated to do so. So Lugo slid into that spot to give the Mets a seven-man bullpen. Jacob Rhame, Paul Sewald and Robert Gsellman were officially told they would be out of the bullpen on Friday, joining Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos, Jerry Blevins and Anthony Swarzak.
Lugo expects to go back to the bullpen when Vargas comes back.
Hes earned the shot at starting.
If Eiland and Callaway sent a message with the demotion of Wheeler on Saturday, Lugos success this spring reinforced that.
The 28-year-old, whom the Mets drafted in the 34th round in 2011, is an example that those who arent among the Mets highly-touted prospects can earn a chance.
This spring, Lugo convinced bullpen coach Ricky Bones that, despite his partially torn UCL, he could pitch in relief. He then earned a roster spot and a spot start.
I feel like I put in a lot of hard work this spring. Its nice to see it pay off, Lugo said. In baseball there really arent surprises, its pretty hectic every day. Didnt necessarily have too many expectations, just go out and do my thing.