The debate over whether Seth Lugo belongs in the rotation or bullpen will likely continue until the right-hander develops the kind of consistency in his newest role that he displayed in his last one.
Previously a top Mets reliever, Lugo showed resiliency Tuesday night with recovery from a shellacking last week in Philadelphia that could have dented the psyche of somebody less sure about his ability.
With Lugo in charge, the Mets beat the Rays 5-2 at Citi Field to snap a two-game skid. The Mets (25-30) are mathematically alive for the postseason, but with five games left remain a long shot to secure a playoff berth.
In his strongest start of the season, Lugo lasted 6 ¹/₃ innings and surrendered two runs, one of which was unearned, on four hits and one walk with seven strikeouts. It followed his beatdown against the Phillies that included four homers allowed.
“I don’t care where he pitches — if Seth has the ball I am confident he is going to get a lot of outs,” Pete Alonso said. “That is just such a cool thing about Seth, you can just plug him in anywhere and he’s going to not just get the job done, he’s going to do it extremely well. The guy just knows how to pitch, no matter what situation.”
Lugo was asked if on the mound he thinks about the possibility he is auditioning for next year’s rotation.
“That is something in the back of my mind that I really can’t control, but it’s definitely there,” Lugo said. “To go out and pitch into the seventh that was important to me and it’s a great spot to build off, whatever role it is.”
Lugo should have completed the seventh on this night, but Todd Frazier booted Willy Adames’ grounder that might have been an inning-ending double play, giving the Rays a rally. Justin Wilson unleashed a wild pitch following a double steal, slicing the Mets’ lead to 3-2.
But the Mets got the run back in their next at-bat, with Guillermo Heredia’s first home run for the team. Heredia started in center field for a second straight day, as Michael Conforto was again sidelined with left hamstring discomfort. The Mets tacked on in the eighth inning with an insurance run on Pete Alonso’s RBI fielder’s choice after loading the bases with nobody out.
Adames homered in the second for the Rays’ only earned run against Lugo.
“One of the things that stands out about Seth is he’s mentally tough,” manager Luis Rojas said. “Right after the outing [in Philadelphia] we had a conversation about it and he was pretty pleased about some of the pitches that he threw in that outing. It was a short outing because he got hit hard and he was still like pretty confident that he threw the ball well, he’s believing in himself. Just that demeanor helps him to do these kind of things.”
Robinson Cano’s homer in the second inning tied it 1-1. The 37-year-old Cano — who is enjoying a rebound season after struggling for much of last year — went to the opposite field against Blake Snell, clearing the left-field fence for his 10th homer.
Alonso’s solo homer in the fourth against Snell gave the Mets a 2-1 lead. Alonso, who was 2-for-34 before the blast, hit a rocket to right-center, extending his team lead in homers to 13. The homer was Alonso’s first since a stretch of seven games earlier this month in which he hit five.
“I’m never going to give up,” Alonso said. “I never give up on myself, I never give up on my teammates and until the last out is made I’m busting it. I am doing the best I can and playing as hard as I can.”