Jason Vargas turned SunTrust Park into Disaster Central for the Mets on Saturday, only raising further questions about the fifth spot in the team’s starting rotation.
The beleaguered left-hander threw 36 pitches to six batters, recorded only one out and was charged for four runs in a second straight awful appearance. And Plan B, Corey Oswalt, wasn’t any better in an 11-7 loss to the Braves that snapped the Mets’ three-game winning streak.
Vargas (1-1, 14.21 ERA) was skipped in the rotation for his last turn, but in a relief appearance against the Twins on Tuesday surrendered four earned runs in one inning of mop-up duty. The Mets have a day off Thursday, which would allow manager Mickey Callaway to again skip Vargas in the rotation, but there aren’t enough blank dates on the schedule to avoid the issue beyond that.
Vargas was a disaster in the first half of last season, but pitched to a 3.60 ERA over his final 10 starts, prompting team officials to believe he could rebound in the second year of a contract, which is paying him $8 million this season. So far, so bad.
Dallas Keuchel remains an intriguing name on the free-agent market, but an industry source cast doubt the Mets are willing to meet the financial commitment it would take to sign the former Cy Young award winner.
Oswalt is next on the depth chart behind Vargas, but the right-hander hardly inspired confidence by surrendering five earned runs on six hits and four walks over 3 ²/₃ innings, in his first appearance since arriving from Triple-A Syracuse on Wednesday.
Another possibility is Seth Lugo, but moving the right-hander to the rotation — where he has displayed previous flashes of brilliance — would weaken a bullpen that is hardly flush with overwhelming depth. Lugo would also have to be stretched out, but that could be accomplished in the framework of extended relief appearances over the next week.
Vargas was acceptable in his first appearance of the season, in which he pitched five innings and allowed two runs for a win in Miami, but the Marlins also possess a lineup that might be baseball’s weakest.
On Saturday the lefty was finished after just one-third of an inning in which he surrendered four earned runs on two hits and three walks. After Callaway went to the mound for the pitching change, he was ejected by plate umpire Alfonso Marquez for complaining about the strike zone.
Ronald Acuna Jr. singled in the first run, after Josh Donaldson’s walk put runners on first and second. Vargas followed with walks to Nick Markakis and Dansby Swanson, forcing in another run.
Oswalt entered and surrendered a two-run single to Johan Camargo, completing the line on Vargas.
The Mets rallied to tie it 4-4 in the second against lefty Sean Newcomb, with Juan Lagares’ two-run single igniting the rally. Newcomb was removed before the inning concluded, and Touki Toussaint gave the Braves six innings of relief in which he allowed an unearned run.
Oswalt crumbled in the bottom of the second, when the Braves sent nine batters to the plate and scored four runs. Donaldson and Markakis each doubled in the inning, with the latter hit driving in a run.
The Braves extended their lead to 9-4 in the fourth on Markakis’ solo homer. In the sixth, Dansby Swanson delivered an RBI single against Luis Avilan. The Braves extended their lead another run in the seventh on Donaldson’s homer against Robert Gsellman.
Brandon Nimmo’s RBI single in the ninth gave the Mets a franchise-record seventh straight game in which they scored at least six runs.