Wilmer Font’s Mets’ debut went very well, as he gave them four solid innings and his pitch count was low enough that he could have given another frame if Mickey Callaway didn’t reflexively pinch-hit for him with a runner on base and no outs. Font had two sacrifice hits last year in his time with the Dodgers, so it’s not like he was incapable of bunting. Instead, Callaway opted to use Keon Broxton and his .402 OPS. Broxton grounded into a double play. It will be great fun when we have the opportunity to wager on in-game results like that.
But let’s not get bogged down in either managerial or player ineptness.
Instead, let’s think about Font and his role on the club moving forward. Wednesday was just his sixth start in 38 games in the majors. But he’s made 105 starts in the minor leagues, including all 25 games for Oklahoma City in 2017, when he compiled a 3.42 ERA in 134.1 IP. FanGraphs shows him throwing a fastball, slider and curve. On Wednesday, the fastball sat at 94 and touched 96, while his curve had a nice 11-7 break in it.
The Mets have an unsure rotation, with two pitchers currently missing their turn in the rotation. Steven Matz has a nerve irritation in his forearm and received a cortisone injection on Monday. The club has not placed Matz on the IL and hopes he will just miss the one start. But Jason Vargas was put on the Injured List due to a hamstring strain and it’s unsure how long he will be sidelined. Vargas was injured twice last year and both lasted longer than the minimum 10 days. If he only needed a minimum stint this time, they could likely get by without needing another starter, as the club has off days on Thursday 5/9 and Monday 5/13.
If Vargas needs an extended IL stint, the Mets can continue to use Font as a starter. But the interesting thing is what the club can do if Vargas comes back and Font can be used as a reliever. The Mets already have Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo in the pen ready and able to pitch two or three innings at a time. If they were to add Font, that would give them three people to utilize in this modern-day long reliever role.
Gsellman has gone three innings in an appearance twice this year and has gone more than an inning in seven additional outings. Lugo has eight appearances of more than an inning, including a three-inning stint on 5/4. Wednesday was the fifth time this year Font has pitched at least two innings in a game. With these three relievers at their disposal, the Mets could set up a rotation to use them twice a week for multiple innings at a time in each stint.
While Callaway has been super conservative with Vargas, the other four members of his rotation are rounding into form and going longer stints. After failing to reach the sixth inning in three consecutive starts, Noah Syndergaard pitched a complete game on 5/2 and followed that up with a six-inning outing. Jacob deGrom has back-to-back seven inning games to his credit. Zack Wheeler has thrown 33 IP in his last five starts and Matz has 18.2 IP in his last three games.
When four of the five starters can be counted on to go six or more innings each time out, if you carry three relievers you feel good about going multiple innings twice a week – you can run a bullpen with six pitchers.
This allows a deeper bench, one where they wouldn’t be stuck without a lefty bat to bring in to face a tough righty reliever like happened on Wednesday. They can carry a backup shortstop and not ask Jed Lowrie to play a game there for the first time since he played three innings at the position in 2016. Or have Todd Frazier play there for the first time since two partial games there in 2011 when he was 25.
For so many years we were subjected to the Alderson/Collins bullpen approach that featured two or three lefty relievers who would only pitch partial innings. That left more work for the rest of the pen and the answer was to ask guys to consistently pitch four of the last five games. It was all hands on deck, each and every game. And pray that the game didn’t go extra innings.
But now, we could have this scenario:
deGrom – 7 IP, Drew Gagnon 1 IP, Edwin Diaz 1 IP
Syndergaard – 6 IP, Lugo 2 IP, Daniel Zamora 1 IP
Matz – 6 IP, Font 3 IP
Wheeler – 7 IP, Gagnon 1 IP, Diaz 1 IP
Vargas – 4 IP, Gsellman, 3 IP, Justin Wilson 1 IP
Ideally, you have either an off day or an outing where none of the Font/Gsellman/Lugo trio have to be used. And if neither of those things worked, you use the shuttle with Gagnon and Zamora to Syracuse to bring up a new pitcher to help cover any potential innings shortfall. The plan is to have the multi-inning outing and then get three days off.
Of course, no plan ever works perfectly all of the time. Vargas can have an appearance last 0.1 innings and Matz can follow up three days later with an outing where he doesn’t record an out. You’ve got to be flexible and pitch guys with two days of rest some times and you have to be willing to aggressively promote and demote at least one relief spot whenever necessary. And you might as well have J.D. Davis start throwing some bullpen sessions, too, just in case.
But my preference is to have a bench with a backup shortstop and an adequate number of righty and lefty bats. That will be more advantageous than carrying a 7-man pen so that Tim Peterson can be on the squad for two months at a time and put up a 7.71 ERA in the process.
So, even though Wednesday’s loss was a little tough to swallow, it was good to see a solid outing by Font. He gives the Mets a better depth starter than Chris Flexen and if and when he’s used as a reliever, the Mets can take advantage of his ability to throw multiple innings and add another hitter to their roster. It’ll be nice to have a “Wilmer” worth his salary and roster spot. Now we just have to hope that the return – labeled currently as a PTBNL or cash – turns out to be only money and not a guy who’s too far away for the club to rate appropriately.