Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Seth Lugo can't quite get used to the idea that the kids now at his old high school sometimes call him "sir" when they see him at the gym. "Hey," Lugo says, "I'm still a player. Don't call me 'sir.'"
After a moment's reflection, though, Lugo admits, "Maybe I am 'sir.'"
The students at Parkway High in Bossier City, La. might be on to something, considering the Met pitcher's career arc. A former 34th-round pick, Lugo missed his first full pro season because of spinal surgery, made a splash as a surprise contributor to the Mets' 2016 run to the NL Wild Card Game, starred in the World Baseball Classic last year, and then faced a serious elbow injury that he knows he'll "have to stay on top of the rest of my career."
And last month, Lugo got engaged, popping the question to fiancée Amanda Vogle on a trip to Hawaii. Lugo posted an Instagram photo of the sweet slice of life -- he's on one knee in front of Hamama Falls on Oahu as a delighted Vogle reaches for the ring.
"I'm growing up quicker than I'm realizing," Lugo says in a phone interview.
That, plus some solid offseason work, puts him in a great frame of mind as he prepares for spring training, which begins next month. Lugo calls this a "different" offseason because much of his work has been built around the care and feeding of his partially-torn UCL. That injury kept him from making his first start last year until June 11 and made him wonder if he'd need Tommy John surgery.
He's concentrated on strengthening the muscles around the area, "so the muscles take the stress, not the ligament," he says. "That'll be my new routine for my career, if I want to avoid the knife."
It's helped that his elbow has felt good the whole time, including when he started new manager Mickey Callaway's throwing and workout programs. Lugo hasn't felt any soreness, which has offered relief as he faces the uncertainty that accompanies any injury like this.
"I think the workouts have been contributing to that feeling," Lugo says. "I've been paying attention to the signs. I haven't felt anything."
Lugo says he's had several conversations with Callaway, but they haven't specifically discussed his 2018 role. Depending on the health of the Mets' pitching staff, Lugo could either start or be a multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen. He's eager to work with "essentially three pitching coaches" - Callaway, the former Indians pitching coach, new Met pitching coach Dave Eiland and bullpen coach Ricky Bones.
Lugo, 28, was 7-5 for the Mets last year in 19 games (18 starts) with a 4.71 ERA. He allowed 114 hits in 101.1 innings while striking out 85. A second injury, a shoulder impingement, cost him some starts, too.
So 2017 obviously wasn't as dazzling as his 2016, when Lugo sparkled as a fill-in, going 5-2 with a 2.67 ERA.
"That all kind of seems like whirlwind," Lugo says of 2016. "I can't hardly remember much of it. So much excitement. Last year, I had some experience, so I could think about stuff."
He knows that even a momentary glitch in focus can be costly and it's clear he can still remember specific, poorly-executed pitches. One that still grinds on him is a fastball that Philadelphia's Maikel Franco hit for a home run in Lugo's final start of the season.
"I knew if I threw a fastball inside, I'd get him out. Instead of focusing on the execution, I just threw it and it went over the plate," Lugo says. "Those are bigger cues for me to think about going forward, focusing on the execution of the pitch.
"I hate to say it, but it's the truth: The worst thing I can do out there is lose focus on one pitch. That's all it takes. If I can focus, I can throw it where I want."
Lugo became a superstar of MLB.com's Statcast in 2016 because his curveball set a record for spin rate. One of his curves became an Internet sensation -- a strikeout of Cubs star Anthony Rizzo came on a pitch with such an absurd break that it hit Rizzo's back foot after his wild swing. It was Lugo's first career strikeout.
"I sure hope my first strikeout in my career isn't my most famous one," Lugo says.
Lugo tinkered with his noted pitch last year, introducing a new, slower version of the curveball. He tries to throw it between 69 and 74 miles per hour, a contrast to the sharper one that sits between 77-82 mph. It puts something else in hitters' brains at the plate.
"I wasn't trying to spin it as much," he says. "I think guys were looking for it (the faster one). It doesn't do too much good if they are looking for it. They can hit it if they are. That's why I got the slower one."
He's hoping it's another tool to get past hitters like Daniel Murphy, who Lugo mentions as someone always able to whack a grounder through an infield hole, even if he doesn't square up a ball.
Lugo is eager for the challenge. He's pledging to enjoy this season more, especially in light of his UCL injury.
"That's one thing I've been thinking about the last six months," Lugo said. "The last couple months of last season were rough on everyone.
"You have to enjoy it while it lasts. It might not last forever."