In his first start since returning from the disabled list, Seth Lugo allowed two runs and struck out five hitters in just 3 2/3 innings of work during Sunday night's 5-4 loss to the Nationals.
"I think he threw the ball great," said manager Terry Collins, who removed Lugo in the fourth inning after he reached 70 pitches. "He was limited to a pitch count tonight, but I was very, very pleased with how he threw the ball. He said he felt great and those are all pluses."
Lugo, 27, was put on the 10-day disabled list Aug. 12 with an impingement in his shoulder.
He started the year on the DL with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligamet in his pitching elbow, which caused him to miss roughly 10 weeks and which he rehabbed in an effort to avoid Tommy John surgery.
"I felt like I could have kept pitching, but there was a pitch count that he told me about," Lugo explained after the game. "It's the smart way to go. ... I felt like I threw it real well. I was hitting spots, had good life on my pitches, and I was pleased with it."
Jul 30, 2017; Lugo (67) pitches to the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field. Credit: Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
Last season, Lugo was 5-2 with a 2.67 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 45 strikeouts in 17 appearances pitching in the rotation and bullpen. This year, during which he's made 12 starts and one relief appearance, he is 5-3 with a 4.85 ERA and 1.40 WHIP through just 72 1/3 innings.
"He still knows how to pitch," Collins said before Sunday's game, when asked about Lugo's up-and-down season. "He still uses his pitches and commands them and changes speeds, and I think that's what makes him effective."
Following the game, Lugo said he felt the shoulder impingement is no longer an issue for him.
Matthew Cerrone (Twitter | Instagram | About Me): Lugo looked better Sunday than he had prior to his most recent injury, so that's a good sign. The thing is, like pretty much everyone else on the staff aside from Jacob deGrom, he'll enter this winter and next spring a bit of a question mark -- even if he pitches well down the stretch.
For starters, his elbow is a ticking time bomb, because eventually -- it's assumed -- his UCL will tear enough to eventually need Tommy John surgery. He may be a newish name to most people, but he's hardly a young prospect just starting his career. He'll be 28 years old when next season begins. And, at this stage of his career, I can understand why he'd keep pitching and avoiding surgery until he absolutely has to have it. Because, if he went under the knife now, it would mean losing his current and job and then having to re-enter the game around 30 years old with little track record to show for his time in the big leagues.
July, 22, 2017: Lugo waits to be removed from a game by Terry Collins (Credit: USA Today Sports)
Meanwhile, the Mets have him under contract and, while they know about the elbow, they also know he has a ton of talent, mostly due to his amazing curve ball. I still contend he'd be best used as a 2-to-3 inning reliever. The key to holding off Tommy John surgery is mileage. Lugo, like most people with this type of tear, likely suffered the initial fray a long, long time ago, possibly before even being drafted. Then, with every pitch that is thrown, it tears more and more until eventually, pop, it's time to go under the knife.
Ordinarily, like in the case of Masahiro Tanaka, a team isn't going to take a career starting pitcher out of the rotation and put him in the bullpen just to reduce his work load. However, in the case of Lugo, who has pitched really, really well in relief already in his career, it might be smart to make officially make it his full-time gig. It just so happens I believe it is where he can provide the most consistent value to the team, given how it will be structured.
Danny Abriano, SNY.tv:
Regardless of how pitching through multiple injuries might have impacted him this season, a regression from Lugo was to be expected.
Along with Robert Gsellman, Lugo helped push the Mets to the postseason in 2016, but a closer look at his numbers revealed that he was pitching over his head. Lugo's ERA last season was 2.67, but his FIP was 4.33 -- suggesting he was the beneficiary of lots of good luck. And part of that was his .230 BABIP against.
This season, Lugo's ERA is 4.85 while his FIP is 4.26, with his BABIP against at .316 (it was .307 in Double-A in 2015, and .375 in Triple-A in 2016). Another key difference between 2016 and 2017 is Lugo's strand rate. In 2016, he stranded 85.7 percent of the runners he allowed to reach base. This season, that number is 68.5 percent (his career strand rate is 75.7 percent).
Lugo may turn out to be a reliable starting pitcher in the majors, but he shouldn't be someone the Mets have in their plans as one of their top five starters heading in to 2018 -- and that's without taking into account his ability to even take the mound should his UCL issue or another injury render him unable to.