For a 51s starter, looking at the New York Mets’ rotation can be daunting.
The Mets are second in the majors with a 3.21 team ERA, and the next man to crack the rotation will be Zack Wheeler when he returns from Tommy John surgery, not a Triple-A starter.
So when Seth Lugo was moved from the rotation to the bullpen earlier this month, he said he was excited by the move.
“I’ve kind of been ready for it. It wasn’t that big of a shocker for me,” Lugo said. “I also felt I got a fresh start because I kind of struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season. Maybe a new life.”
So far, he’s responded well to the new role. Lugo has a 1.13 ERA in eight innings spanning five games out of the bullpen. As a starter, he was 3-3 with a 7.28 ERA in 11 games.
There was prior talk of Lugo going to the bullpen, but the idea was nixed to let him work on his secondary stuff more. Pitching coach Frank Viola said he had to work on both his curveball and his cutter and commanding his changeup better.
“It was discussed in spring training with the big club as well,” pitching coach Frank Viola said. “They thought that with his stuff and … his ability to throw 95 out of the blue, they always thought that it would be really fun to see what he could do out of the bullpen. Now he’s got the chance.”
Starter Robert Gsellman’s promotion from Double-A Binghamton to Triple-A put Lugo’s move in motion.
As expected, Lugo has seen a spike in his velocity.
Lugo would occasionally flash mid-90s in starts — he said maybe between three and seven times in a game if the situation called for it, he’d rear back and throw as hard as he could — but from the bullpen, he can do it more.
Viola said he hit 96 three times in a recent outing.
“We knew it was in there. It was just a question of whether it would be consistent,” Viola said. “And the four or five times he’s come out of the bullpen right now, that velocity has stayed consistent so that shows us that he can maintain that.”
On average, Viola said Lugo’s velocity his gone from about 88 to 90 up to 92 to 93.
“I think going at them with my best pitch and getting ahead early coming out of the bullpen, there’s more opportunities to try to throw it a little harder rather than trying to get quick outs and have a short pitch count as a starter trying to get deep into games,” Lugo said.
So far, manager Wally Backman has used him to start innings, but his usage will start to evolve as he gets used to the bullpen.
“It’s always different for a pitcher when they create their own situation, but it’s how do they react to a situation that’s already out there, but that’ll come soon,” Backman said.
Backman said that’d probably be something that would happen after Lugo got 10 to 15 appearances out of the bullpen under his belt.
For now, Lugo has responded well to the new situations thrown at him.
He said he still hasn’t gotten his workout routine down pat yet and life in the bullpen is a bit of a change mentally.
“The first couple games I was in the bullpen, I noticed around the sixth, seventh, eighth inning mentally I was starting to get a little tired,” Lugo said. “I was like ‘Well, it makes sense because when I’m starting that’s about the time my brain starts to shut down,’ so I kind of have to reverse that and relax more early.”
And as he continues to adapt to the bullpen, he’s increasing his chances of getting to the big leagues — especially in an organization that has its starting pitching needs filled.
“Especially with the five starters they’ve got up there and Wheeler coming back — those guys are good — I definitely see more opportunities out of the pen with this organization at least,” Lugo said. “I think it’s good to be able to do both and be flexible (for) whatever the team needs.”
Betsy Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BetsyHelfand