Mets’ Seth Lugo-to-rotation plan is risky business

A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

Unless you’re the New York Mets, who could tie themselves into mental knots over the ordering, today, of a vanilla ice cream cone.

Wednesday night ended well for the Peter Griffin of the baseball world, as Michael Conforto’s two-run, ninth-inning homer cleaned up the mess left behind by some truly dumbfounding decision-making and gave the Mets their third straight win, 5-3 over the Marlins at Marlins Park. Yet even though they reached their destination, the Mets’ journey there only called further into question whether they’re capable of finding the finish line of the playoffs and beyond.

When Jacob deGrom deGrominates, as the reigning two-time National League Cy Young Award winner did for six innings Wednesday, departing with a 2-0 lead and not showing residue of the neck injury that scratched from his previous start, you must win that game if you’re the Mets. Because your other starting pitchers — including Seth Lugo, who will return to his desired perch for Thursday night’s series finale — are nowhere as reliable. Because you’re 12-14 in a 60-game season.

Yet the Mets deprived deGrom of a win, declining to use their best reliever Lugo to close it out even though their other top bullpen guys Jeurys Familia, Dellin Betances and Edwin Diaz showed wear and/or tear, in the interest of granting Lugo’s wish to return to the starting rotation.

Dellin Betances hands the ball to Luis Rojas after he gets pulled in the eighth inning of the Mets' 5-3 win over the Marlins on Wednesday.
Dellin Betances hands the ball to Luis Rojas after he gets pulled in the eighth inning of the Mets’ 5-3 win over the Marlins on Wednesday.AP

Suddenly, the Mets’ stellar relief corps feels considerably less stellar, and their starting rotation only possibly better. What a time to yank the rug from under their collective feet.

“We have really good guys there that can definitely come in those scenarios,” said Luis Rojas, who obviously doesn’t make a decision this significant on his own. “They’ve done it in the past. … Today we blew a save opportunity there, but Diaz did a good job coming right back and showing what he can do.

“We trust our ’pen. We trust the guys that we have there.”

In Game 25 of a 162-game season, perhaps you can justify this maneuver. Perhaps. Remember that Lugo owns a 4.06 career ERA in 168 ¹/₃ innings pitched as a starter and 2.53 in 188 ²/₃ innings as a reliever. Yet maybe he has learned enough the past few years to translate his bullpen excellence to the start of the games. And the bullpen does contain a bevy of guys with impressive résumés.

In Game 25 of a 60-game season, when you factor in the time it’ll take Lugo to stretch out and the doubts surrounding guys like Diaz (jitters), Betances (durability) and Familia (performance since last year), it sure feels like a risk that doesn’t justify the reward — all the more so for a team now 12-14. More to the point, even if you think this move makes sense, don’t you punt on it for a few more days to give yourself your best chance at not losing a deGrom start, giving the demoted Steven Matz another chance to fix himself against the lousy Marlins?

When I asked Rojas whether it was fair to contend that the Mets were willing to lose this game for their perceived greater gain of Lugo becoming a starter, the manager said, “It’s really tough to not have a piece like Lugo in the pen. We trust the guys we have in our pen.”

He declared his dedication after Familia allowed a run in the seventh while recording just one out, Justin Wilson rescuing him from more trouble. After Betances, pitching in his second straight game, loaded the bases and then, following a mound visit by pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, hit Eddy Alvarez to force home a run, making it a 3-2 Mets lead. And after Diaz, also pitching for the second consecutive night, walked home Logan Forsythe to knot the game at 3-3 and hand deGrom approximately his 600th career no-decision when he allows zero runs.

Diaz did close out his own win/blown save with a three-strikeout ninth. His talent is not in doubt.

“I feel like I’m ready,” he said, as he likely reassumes the top closer’s spot.

Are you ready? Buckle up for what feels like a bumpy ride. Or, just a typical day in Mets Land.

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