• 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."