Forced into duty, bullpen lifts 51s over Reno

When Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield’s hard comebacker rocketed off Mets’ starter Bartolo Colon’s thumb in the first inning Tuesday in New York, the ramifications were felt as far away as Reno.

Logan Verrett, who was slated to start for the 51s, was scratched and appears likely to rejoin the taxed Mets bullpen. As a result, Las Vegas (38-33) had to resort to a bullpen game. But despite the undesirable circumstances, the 51s still escaped with a 6-3 victory over the Aces at Greater Nevada Field.

“We (had) to improvise a little bit so we can play today and so we can play tomorrow,” manager Wally Backman said. “That’s really what it’s all about is having enough people to play tomorrow. The plan worked tonight. Hopefully it works tomorrow.”

Seth Lugo, who began the season as a starter but was shifted into the bullpen earlier this month, pitched a scoreless first inning.

Lugo could only go one inning, though, as he will be pressed into service again Friday to start in place of Sean Gilmartin, who was recalled by the Mets on Tuesday.

With Lugo only available for an inning, Backman then turned to Chase Huchingson.

Though the plan was to have Huchingson go two innings, his pitch count started to creep up in part because center fielder Brandon Nimmo misplayed a fly ball into a triple.

“That ball definitely should have been caught without a question,” Backman said. “He wouldn’t have given up any runs.”

Huchingson gave up two runs in the second — one on the Ed Lucas triple and one on a ground out — as the Aces took a 2-1 lead.

After his departure, Zack Thornton threw two scoreless innings before Reno tacked on another run — this one against Chasen Bradford on a wild pitch in the fifth.

Bradford ended up with the win, though, as the 51s broke through in the sixth with four runs.

After an Eric Campbell single cut Reno’s lead to one, Travis Taijeron had the big hit in the inning, clearing the bases with a three-run double to give Las Vegas a 5-3 lead.

Bradford held Reno scoreless in the bottom of the inning. Josh Smoker followed with 1 2/3 innings and Paul Sewald with 1 1/3 to cap a successful night for the bullpen.

Backman said everybody but Thornton, who threw 52 pitches, would be available in Wednesday’s game.

The 51s will have Duane Below, Gabriel Ynoa and Lugo start the next three games before potentially having to go to another bullpen game unless there is an addition to the roster or Robert Gsellman is ready to come off the disabled list.

Gsellman threw a side Wednesday and the hope is that he can return during the next series.

But while the rotation is still in flux, the bullpen stepped up for the 51s on Tuesday.

“(I) talked to all the bullpen guys. I think that they were ready to pitch. They knew the situation,” Backman said. “I give credit to the bullpen for the job that they did today.”

Betsy Helfand can be reached at Follow on Twitter: @BetsyHelfand

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