Despite how poorly Jason Vargas has performed in his first season with the Mets — and apparently, no matter how poorly he pitches the rest of the season — Mickey Callaway envisions the veteran remaining in the team’s rotation next year.
Prior to Vargas’ rain-shortened start Tuesday night, the Mets manager endorsed the oft-injured, long-struggling southpaw as his preferred fifth starter next year, slotted behind Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler.
Vargas (2-8), who signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Mets as a free agent, posted a 4.16 ERA with Kansas City last year, and has a 4.31 ERA for his career, but saw this season’s ERA balloon to 8.75 after being tagged for three runs in one-third of an inning in the 6-1 loss to the Reds at Citi Field.
Yet, despite Vargas’ disastrous season, Callaway is banking on the 35-year-old’s 2019 to look like 2017.
“I think we’re the best team we can possibly be with Vargas being the guy he was last year in our rotation,” Callaway said. “I think we all feel confident that Jason, when he gets going and gets on a good schedule, he’s going to be competitive. That’s one of the reasons we signed him.”
Though Callaway won’t rule out sending Vargas to the bullpen at some point over the next two months, the first-year manager plans to keep the lefty in the rotation, so that his workload won’t be an issue next season.
In Tuesday’s loss, Vargas was removed after a 100-minute rain delay, and faced just four batters, throwing 14 pitches (12 strikes). He has yet to pitch more than five innings in any of his 12 starts this season.
Callaway said he wasn’t yet sure if Vargas might make his next start on shorter rest.
“I think it’s necessary [to keep him in the rotation] for the fact that we need him to be built up as many innings-wise, so he can go out next year and haul a bunch of innings for us,” Callaway said. “You can’t ever predict how guys are going to come into next year based on what they did at the end of the year before.
“We’ve seen guys win Cy Young [awards] and go and then lose 19 games. It’s never a good indicator of how they’re going to perform the next year, but we would like for him to have some success at the end of the season to be able to build up his innings, so that when it comes back next season, if he’s in a good spot and everything’s going well, he can continue to pitch and try to be the guy he was last year.”
The plan to stretch Vargas hit its latest obstacle when he allowed hits to three of the first four batters he faced. The lightning storm, and heavy downpour then combined to kick him from the mound in the shortest start of his career.
“Things definitely haven’t gone my way, or our way as a team very often,” Vargas said after the game. “Tonight, it was just the weather that’s another layer on it.”
Reliever Paul Sewald made Vargas’ night look even worse, allowing both of Vargas’ inherited runners to score. In the third, Bobby Wahl allowed a two-run homer to Phillip Ervin, giving the Reds a 5-1 lead. Former Met Dilson Herrera then added a pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning.
The Mets collected just four hits, and were held to one run or fewer for the 25th time this season.
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