Mets' starter woes becoming systemic issue

Mets' starter woes becoming systemic issue

NEW YORK -- The Mets are the only team in Major League Baseball with an ERA over 5.00. It is a significant issue for a club built around pitching -- specifically starting pitching -- and a difficult one to overcome considering the current state of their rotation.

After Tommy Milone, a rotation fill-in, gave up eight runs (seven earned) in a 12-5 loss to the Angels on Sunday, manager Terry Collins indicated that Milone will start a fourth game for the Mets next Saturday. The team does not have much of a choice. Until Steven Matz and Seth Lugo return from injury next month, the Mets have little option but to win with what they have -- a rotation that ranks among the league's worst in ERA and innings pitched.

"It's about our starters doing what we think they should do," Collins said. "And that is, basically, getting us through six [innings]."

Milone on Sunday did not even get the Mets through two, allowing five runs before he recorded his first out. C.J. Cron's grand slam capped a dominant first inning from the Angels, who tacked on three more runs on a pair of homers off Milone in the second.

"It seemed like anytime I was throwing the ball over the plate, they were hitting it," Milone said. "That's obvious. I don't know. I don't really have any answers."

The rest of the game followed an all-too-familiar script. Forced to cobble together 7 2/3 innings from their bullpen, the Mets used a half-dozen pitchers without much success. Their comeback attempt fell seven runs short.

No obvious answers reside at Triple-A Las Vegas, which is why the Mets claimed Milone earlier this month in the first place. Only right-hander Tyler Pill is pitching with consistent success for the 51s, but his lack of swing-and-miss stuff -- just 19 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings -- has scouts skeptical that he can succeed at the game's highest level.

Matz and Lugo, who are recovering from elbow injuries, are scheduled to make rehab starts Tuesday for Las Vegas and Class A Advanced St. Lucie, respectively. But the Mets want both pitchers to start twice more in the Minors before they will feel comfortable promoting them to the big leagues. In other words, neither one's return is imminent.

Compounding everything is the fact that the Mets fear pushing Zack Wheeler, who is returning from Tommy John surgery, and their other veteran starters too hard. So they are tentatively planning to insert Robert Gsellman back into the rotation on Wednesday, giving both Wheeler and Jacob deGrom an extra day of rest. That lines Milone up for Saturday against the Pirates, and likely June 1 versus the Brewers as well.

"Right now, Tom's going to go back out," Collins said. "We think that's our best option."

Milone on Sunday became the 20th Mets starter in 22 games to last six innings or fewer. Harvey is scheduled to pitch Tuesday, looking to shake off the 9.00 ERA he has posted over his last four starts. Then the ball will probably go to Gsellman, who pitched poorly enough as a starter that the Mets temporarily sent him to the bullpen.

At some point, some of those names must demonstrate marked improvement, lest the Mets fall too far out of contention for it to matter.

"We're starting to see some advancement," Collins said. "Obviously, Jake's feeling good. Even though Zack kind of lost his command last night, I think he's made strides. I think we saw some strides from Harvey. So I think we're getting back into it."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.