By Zach Gewelb
While the start of their season may not have been ideal, it seems as though the Mets are on the verge of finally turning the corner, as key players such as Yoenis Cespedes, Steven Matz and Seth Lugo are inching closer to returning from long-term injuries.
Cespedes has been out since April 28 with a quad injury, and Steven Matz and Seth Lugo have each yet to make an appearance this season due to elbow injuries. But that will all change soon.
All three have begun rehab assignments, with Matz and Lugo particularly excelling.
Matz was dominant in his most recent rehab start Sunday, tossing five perfect innings for Triple-A Las Vegas. The southpaw tossed 73 pitches, striking out eight, and figures to make one more appearance before a possible return to the big league rotation.
Manager Terry Collins was impressed with Matz’s strong work throughout his rehab, especially Sunday’s perfect performance.
“Five perfect innings in Las Vegas?” Collins said. “I’ve played a lot of games in Las Vegas. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that.”
Lugo pitched well in his third rehab start Sunday, surrendering three runs in six innings for Double-A Binghamton. Lugo threw 79 pitches in the start, which could mean he can throw about 100 pitches in what could be his final rehab appearance next time he takes the mound.
With both Matz and Lugo seemingly healthy and just about ready to return, the Mets will receive a much-needed infusion of pitching depth. Matz figures to slot into the rotation, while Lugo has the ability to start or pitch out of the bullpen. If the Mets use Lugo as a starter, expect Robert Gsellman to either move to the bullpen or be sent down to Triple-A.
“Matz has already been a starter and Lugo has the elbow issue, it probably makes sense for him (Lugo) to be in the rotation, not in the bullpen,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. “That gives us five, plus Gsellman. It’s likely Gsellman will go to the pen and we do think he can help us there. A five ERA in the bullpen, a lot of people can help us.”
Gsellman has struggled in the rotation this year, pitching to a 3-3 record with a 5.75 ERA, so a move to the bullpen to make room for Lugo seems like the most ideal scenario.
Either way, the return of Matz and Lugo will bolster the Mets’ pitching staff at a time when the team desperately needs a boost.
Of course, the return of Cespedes will also provide a significant boost to New York. While the Mets’ lineup has still managed to score consistently in Cespedes’ absence — their 250 runs scored is ranked seventh-best in the National League — the Cuban slugger makes the lineup much deeper.
While he did have a recent setback in his rehab, Cespedes is still on schedule to return in the next week or so, according to Alderson. The general manager said the Mets’ upcoming series in Texas may be a target since Collins would be able to DH Cespedes in the interleague showdown.
A healthy Cespedes, along with the healed elbows of Matz and Lugo, gives the Mets hope, something that’s been seemingly absent the first two months of the season. A lot can still go wrong, but for this first time all year, things seem to be looking up in Flushing.
Reach reporter Zach Gewelb by e-mail at zgewe