Lugo thriving for Mets in shorter outings

Reduced workload designed to protect shoulder, elbow

Lugo thriving for Mets in shorter outings

NEW YORK -- Seth Lugo is far from the only pitcher who struggles the third time through a batting order, but his splits are stark. Opposing hitters are batting .261 their first two times seeing Lugo in a game, and .369 after that. Their on-base and slugging numbers are also staggeringly higher the third time through the order.

The Mets' solution, born more out of necessity than anything, has been to prevent Lugo from seeing hitters a third time. Making abbreviated outings down the stretch in an effort to put less strain on his shoulder and elbow, Lugo is thriving, striking out seven over six shutout innings Monday in a 3-2 win over the Braves at Citi Field. The game was the second half of a doubleheader.

Mets drop Game 1 of doubleheader, 9-2

"The fact that we've kind of cut him back workload-wise, I think his shoulder probably feels better, and therefore, we're seeing some zip on his fastball, some better movement on his fastball," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "His breaking ball and changeup are still really effective. But he knows he's not getting deep into games as far as pitch counts go, so I think he goes out there with a little more energy."

In six starts since coming off the disabled list, Lugo has averaged 78 pitches per outing, with a high of 84. He threw 81 pitches Monday against the Braves, just a hair under two-thirds of them for strikes.

That, Lugo said, is what not pitching deep into games has forced him to do. By pounding the zone early in counts, as he did in striking out the side in the fifth, he has been able to last deep into games despite the pitch restrictions.

"I can't be so fine with guys," Lugo said. "I've got to go right after them from pitch one until however long I can go. It's kept me in the zone, and executing pitches better."

Permitting the Braves just two hits in six innings, Lugo improved to 2-2 with a 4.40 ERA since coming off the DL, and those numbers are skewed by an eight-run blowup in his Sept. 14 loss to the Cubs. In two starts since then, Lugo is undefeated with a 0.82 ERA, 10 strikeouts and one walk.

His success throwing fewer pitches hints at what some in the organization see as a future in the bullpen. Lugo is still pitching with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, a condition that may ultimately require surgery -- but not necessarily for some time. The right-hander's future role will depend as much on his health as on his competition for a rotation spots, though for now, Lugo is simply stating his case to be a part of the 2018 team.

"He's a guy that's going to go into the winter, take a couple months and let that arm rest up," Collins said. "The fact that he knows he can pitch with this little injury that he's got, now with some rest and some exercises to strengthen it up, I think he knows he can avoid surgery. And that will be great for him to start next season with a clear head. Because he can pitch. This guy can really pitch."

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