Jason Vargas’ return to action couldn’t possibly come at a better time for the New York Mets and their suddenly suspect rotation.
When the New York Mets signed Jason Vargas to a two-year, $16 million deal this offseason, he was seen as a guy who could provide depth in case injury struck. Now set to make his 2018 debut Saturday after dealing with a broken hand, his timing couldn’t be better.
It’s been a taxing week on the Mets bullpen, to say the least.
Not only has the team played two extra-inning games, but neither Steven Matz nor Zack Wheeler has been able to finish five innings in their starts. With Matt Harvey now in the bullpen, New York needs an established third starter they can depend on.
The question for Vargas is this: Can he bring an element of consistency that was lacking last season in Kansas City? Despite winning 18 games in 2017, the 35-year-old had a 6.38 ERA in his final 15 starts, nearly four runs higher than the 2.62 ERA he posted in his first 12 starts. In 10 of those 15 starts, he went five innings or fewer.
While it is only one month into the season, the Mets have been using their bullpen a lot.
Their starters have thrown a combined 119 innings, which is the third fewest in the National League (behind the Marlins and Cubs). Of those 119 innings, 59.1 of them have come from Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom (49.6 percent).
The key for Vargas is going to be to get groundball outs with his offspeed pitches. He wasn’t blowing batters away last season with an 85.6 MPH fastball, but induced groundballs at a 40.3 percent clip.
Vargas is just what the Mets are looking for. He’s not going to be looking to strike out every hitter that comes to the plate. Instead, look for him to try to hit his spots and try to get quick outs by trusting his defense, which has turned only 14 double plays this year, which is tied with the Washington Nationals for the fewest in the NL.
Since Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman have been excelling in the latter innings down in the bullpen, there is no reason for manager Mickey Callaway to move them back into the starting rotation. That limits the depth the Mets can turn to if their back end of the rotation can’t get it done.
The Mets need a reliable starter. Vargas can be that guy, despite his age (35) and lack of legitimate heat. If they’re going to say in contention throughout the season, he’s got to fill that role.
A strong start from Vargas on Saturday will ease some of the team’s rotation concerns—for now.