PORT ST. LUCIE — Seth Lugo prefers to be a starter and is accepting his role as a reliever. But mention the word “opener” to the Mets right-hander at your own risk.
“I don’t think an opener belongs in baseball,” Lugo said Thursday, referring to the trend by many teams of using a reliever to work the first inning before summoning the starting pitcher. “Starters are starters. I’m old school. I like the game the way it’s meant to be played.
“I like seeing [Jacob] deGrom go out there and throw seven [innings].”
With roles still unsettled for several pitchers on the staff, it’s possible Lugo could be considered for occasional opening duty, ahead of Steven Matz, should the left-hander crack the rotation. Matz and Michael Wacha appear to be battling for the final rotation spot, with the other headed to the bullpen. But the Mets could also consider an unorthodox arrangement in which the two pitchers split the job, dependent on the opponent.
The Mets, with a strong rotation, have avoided using openers. Lugo could need convincing it’s the right move if he’s asked to fill that role.
“The way I see it if you have an opener who throws a clean first and you bring in an opener for four or five innings after that, if they don’t do well then you wasted the first guy,” Lugo said. “So it just makes sense to stick with the starter. That is the way the game has always been played.”
And yet Lugo said he understands the value of a shutdown first inning.
“I think every inning is important, that is why I appreciate throwing in different situations,” Lugo said. “That’s why I don’t claim to want to pitch a specific inning. I want to pitch every inning.”
Asked how he would respond if team brass wants to use him as an opener, Lugo said: “I don’t know. I will let you know if they ever come to me.”
Lugo was given the option of pitching in an exhibition game against the Cardinals on the road Thursday or remaining behind to appear in the simulated game. He chose the latter.
For Lugo it was the first time this spring facing hitters in a game-like situation. He is returning from a fractured left pinky toe he sustained early in camp when he banged his left foot on the ottoman in his hotel room.
Last season Lugo emerged as the Mets’ most dependable reliever, appearing in 61 games and posting a 2.70 ERA. He ended the season in a part-time closer’s role after others, most notably Edwin Diaz, struggled.
Could Lugo open this season as the closer?
“I really haven’t thought about it,” Lugo said. “If I am thinking about that, then I am not focusing on executing pitches and that is the main focus, especially with this foot, so whatever it takes to command my pitches like I have in the past, that is what I’m looking for.”
Lugo disputed the notion concerns about his elbow — he was diagnosed three years ago with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow — are the reason he usually isn’t asked to pitch on consecutive days. Lugo said the fact he often pitches multiple innings is the bigger issue.
“The last couple of years my availability wasn’t about the elbow,” he said. “It’s about when I throw multiple innings. I am not going to throw multiple innings and then throw again the next day, that is unrealistic. Guys who do that don’t make it very long in this game.”