Jason Vargas and Matt Harvey have disrupted the ideal plan for the Mets in 2018.
Vargas was signed to a two-year deal to be the team’s third starter behind Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. In doing so, Harvey and Steven Matz would be asked to only round out the rotation, while Zack Wheeler went to Triple-A to work on being more economical with his pitches.
Instead, Harvey short-circuited and has been sent to the bullpen, all while Vargas returned to get rocked in two starts after beginning the season on the disabled list. As a result, Wheeler rejoined the Mets, where he and Matz are being asked to step up more than they were initially expected to.
To be fair, Wheeler has pitched mostly well when on the mound. However, he continues to labor and leave games early. Similarly, Matz has looked sharp at times, but routinely falls apart mid-start and at the blink of an eye.
Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman were supposed to be depth for the rotation. However, they’ve both pitched well and carved out important roles in the bullpen, so I’m sure the team’s decision makers are reluctant to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” so to speak.
So, all of a sudden, a team that seemed rich in pitching and potential just a month ago now seems depleted and in need of help. It’s amazing how fast things can change, which is partly why I still have hope that things can work themselves in the other direction…
For instance, there’s reason to believe Vargas will eventually perform as a No. 3 starting pitcher, especially given his former pitching coach with the Royals, Dave Eiland, is his current pitching coach with the Mets. The issue will be in how long the Mets can afford to wait for him to get it together.
Vargas got rocked in his debut last week, which was followed by an equally terrible outing on Thursday, during which he was hit like he was throwing batting practice.
“He was much better,” Mickey Callaway said after the game, though I’m not sure what game he was watching. “I think we saw a little bit of the real Vargas in those middle innings. He’s gonna be fine.”
Callaway told reporters it’s possible Vargas is struggling to be consistent with his mechanics because of his delayed start to the season. This is fair. It sounds like spin, but this is common for pitchers in this exact scenario, so I’m willing to buy it… for now.
Vargas started this the season on the disabled list with a broken bone in his non-pitching hand. He and the team all said that had the Mets been in a playoff race late in the season, or in the postseason, Vargas would have pitched through the injury.
He was activated from the disabled list last week, but gave up nine runs in just 3.2 innings. He was actually so bad in his first start that his ERA went down Thursday, despite giving up six runs.
To make matters worse, Harvey entered in relief of Vargas, looked good for two innings and then imploded, allowing five runs in his final inning of work.
I’ve lost faith that Harvey can ever help again in the rotation. However, I see him doing things now that make be believe he can actually be an asset in relief. If he totally buys in to this role, stops seeing it as an on-ramp for returning to the the rotation, and becomes used to the schedule and routine, he has shown he has the physical tools to be an impactful, high-leverage reliever.
For instance, Thursday, he entered mid inning, stranded two runners and appeared to be a possible savior. However, like most of his outings during the last year and a half, he couldn’t sustain his success and eventually got pounded.
In six innings pitching out of the bullpen this season, Harvey has faced 29 batters, struck out just three, walked five, given up seven hits and allowed seven runs.
“The way his body is working right now, it’s not allowing him to throw through the catcher,” Callaway explained. “In spring training, he was really throwing through the catcher, and there was life on the ball. … He’s got a ways to go, but one thing we can’t ever do is give up on anybody.”
I wonder if Callaway and Eiland are using Harvey’s hiccup as a starting pitcher to try and figure out how and when using him will harness his ability to help in relief. It looks like they’re just randomly throwing him out there when lacking better options. But, if they’re paying attention and tracking his performance, I think these coaches are skilled enough to find lightning in him.
For instance, though his overall numbers are weak, he’s actually pitched better this season from the stretch than when using his full delivery. He’s also pitched very well out of the bullpen when facing batters for the first time. It’s that second time around that does him in — whether pitching this year in relief or as a starter pitcher. If they can find a way to keep him pitching down in the strike zone and find a tick more velocity, in the right situations, Harvey may still be able to rewrite his story.
Personally, I’d rather see Harvey working on this in the minor leagues. I assume he’d reject an assignment to Triple-A, though, and I’ve heard from Mets people that Callaway and Eiland actually think there’s a better chance of him succeeding if they can manage the process. Also, the fact is, Harvey’s ego and psyche clearly play a major role in his performance. Like it or not, sending him to the minors would likely crush him and end any chance of getting value out of his arm in 2018.
The point is, the pitching talent on this team is still present. I don’t know what is making them stumble, but GM Sandy Alderson, Callaway, and Eiland have shown they’re smart enough to find right combination of match-ups, roles and rest. If they do, the potential for this group to carry this entire team is still in reach…
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003.He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans’ Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!
Published at Sat, 05 May 2018 04:11:55 +0000