With three starts in the books for each of the expected five pitchers in the Mets’ rotation, it may come as a surprise to many that left-hander Jason Vargas leads the five with a 1.08 ERA. Vargas doesn’t come in too far behind the rest of the starters in the other categories, either: he’s struck out eight hitters (third-most behind Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom) and has walked just two this spring (tied with deGrom and Zack Wheeler).
Today’s outing was no different, as Vargas worked four scoreless in a no-decision against the Houston Astros. The lefty struck out three, allowing just three hits while walking none, exiting with a 3-0 lead before Luis Avilán and Jacob Rhame combined to allow six runs (two and four, respectively) in the 6-3 loss.
“I try not to put a ton of stock in the results, but the results are good,” Vargas told reporters following his departure. “It’s just [about] having good competitive innings and not ever feeling like I’m out of control with them.”
Vargas opened with a three-up, three-down inning on a groundout to first and a pair of infield pop-ups, demonstrating solid control of both his fastball (which sat 82-86 mph) and changeup (76-79) early on as he worked to keep hitters off balance, keeping the former in on left-handed leadoff man Tony Kemp and down on righty outfielder Jake Marisnick.
The second inning proved a tad more difficult following a 33-minute top half in which the Mets tagged Houston for a three-spot. Career .295 hitter Michael Brantley led off with a base knock to right on a fastball that stayed in the middle of the zone, and Josh Reddick slugged a hanging curveball into the right-field corner for a ground-rule double one out later.
With men on the corners and two righties due up, Vargas knuckled down, inducing a one-pitch popout to shallow left before freezing catcher Max Stassi with a fastball on the inside corner – working back from a 2-1 count and retiring the side.
Following the 17-pitch inning (the longest of the day for him), Vargas retired the Astros in order in the third. He began with a nice 3-2 changeup to strike out shortstop Alex De Goti before inducing a popout to second and routine groundout to third in to navigate a pair of hitters’ counts.
The fourth inning would last just ten pitches, as Vargas retired first baseman Yuli Gurriel on another popout before retiring Tyler White on a perfectly-timed 5-4-3 double play. Overall, Vargas shelled out just 51 pitches, throwing 34 for strikes in his longest outing of the preseason.
When asked how he felt about his spring, the lefty had a blunt, but encouraging answer: “I feel like I’m at my third start of spring training, and not a whole lot more than that… the first three have been good signs of progression.”
Regarding his current outlook as the team’s fifth starter, particularly if he felt insecure about his role, Vargas said, “I don’t think I had anything to prove. Obviously, I wanted to pitch well, and I wanted to keep pitching the way I finished up the season.”
“We’ve got some pretty big goals in mind, not to say that we didn’t last year… but we have a good opportunity to put ourselves in a good position to start off the year.”