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After Rick Porcello dud, Mets’ Luis Rojas still says Seth Lugo is untouchable in bullpen role

New York Mets starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) walks back to the dugout after being removed from the game during the third inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

QUEENS — New York Mets’ first-year manager Luis Rojas is remaining adamant that Seth Lugo will remain in the bullpen despite a lack of pitching depth having already been exposed within the clubs’ ranks after Sunday night’s debacle of a 14-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

After two sterling starts from Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz, Rick Porcello produced a disastrous debut, getting tagged for seven runs (six earned) on seven hits with three walks and just one strikeout in two-plus innings of work.

It was a start that many pessimists — rather, realists — saw coming when looking at Porcello’s recent track record. The 31-year-old posted a career-worst 5.52 ERA last season with the Boston Red Sox while his mark of 4.87 over the last two seasons ranks 56th of 58 qualified pitchers.

Yet, the righty was immediately slated as the team’s No. 3 starter heading into the 2020 season. And he remained there even after a pair of major shakeups.

After losing No. 2 starter Noah Syndergaard to Tommy John surgery in the spring before the coronavirus shutdown, the Mets were dealt another sizable blow just days before the start of the 2020 season when Marcus Stroman — who slid into Syndergaard’s spot in the rotation — suffered a torn calf muscle.

With Porcello crashing and burning on Sunday night, Rojas opted for Corey Oswalt — who received another chance in the majors despite showing little success at the major-league level — rather than going with their best reliever and former starter, Seth Lugo, in a 5-1 game.

Lugo hadn’t pitched since Friday’s Opening Day and would have been a prime candidate to be an effective long man to keep the Mets within touching distance.

Instead, Oswalt gave up five runs on seven hits in four innings of work, including three home runs. In 20 MLB games, he’s allowed an astounding (and not for the right reasons) 18 round-trippers.

Initially, he made the Mets’ Opening Day roster as a potential No. 5 starter.

“We’ll definitely have to meet and talk about his usage,” Rojas said after the game. “He helped give us the depth that we needed… to rest some others.”

The meeting and conversation didn’t last long as Oswalt was optioned to the team’s alternate sight in Brooklyn. They will call up a player to replace him at some point Tuesday.

Sunday night’s embarrassment is all one needs to see to ascertain the Mets’ lack of effective arms to eat up innings — even if it was just the third game of the season.

It’s why Rojas will continue to be faced with the question as to why he won’t consider moving Lugo to the starting rotation — a stance he’s been adamant about throughout the offseason.

“Right now, he’s in the bullpen,” Rojas said. “He’s one of our weapons there. I feel he’s going to help us greatly in a season like this there.”

The 30-year-old righty has been a much better reliever than a starter in his career, sporting a 2.50 career ERA out of the pen rather than his 4.06 mark as a starter. However, he has kept the floodgates from opening in spot starts throughout his Mets tenure and — based on Sunday night alone — could become an option if Porcello or Michael Wacha struggle.

Rojas’ stance is also puzzling when considering the Mets still don’t have a No. 5 starter named for Tuesday night’s game in Boston against the Red Sox. While teams can usually get away with a four-man rotation in the early portions of a normal season, the 2020 sprint of 60 games in 66 days offers few off days, meaning such a luxury is not an option. 

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