The biggest surprise in yesterday’s doubleheader for the New York Mets was a strong showing from rookie right hander Corey Oswalt. Oswalt, making his third big league start since replacing Seth Lugo in the rotation, retired the first 12 Phillies he faced before running into trouble in the fifth. The Phillies loaded the bases against him on walks before opposing starter Aaron Nola launched a double to right to plate all three runs. That would turn out to be the only hit Oswalt allowed on the night as he got through six innings with seven strikeouts against a good big league lineup.
The Mets have been using Oswalt as one of their starters for three turns, and while he was hurt by one bad inning in his first start against Miami he has improved in each of his next two outings, capped by a strong turn last night. There are currently two open spots in the Mets’ rotation, one of which is going back to Noah Syndergaard this weekend. The other was previously held by Jason Vargas, whose performance has been abysmal this season before landing on the disabled list for a second time with a calf injury. Vargas threw 64 pitches in a rehab start tonight, allowing one hit and striking out nine against the Staten Island Yankees, so it looks as if he will be back in the big league rotation before long.
That decision should wait until after the All Star Break, as Vargas’ 2-6 record to go along with an 8.60 ERA don’t justify being handed an immediate rotation spot. Oswalt has earned the right to make one more start before the All Star Break, and that should come on Sunday, when he is lined up to face the Washington Nationals. The Nationals present another tough lineup, but the won-loss record is irrelevant to the Mets at this point. The important thing is evaluating the young players that the Mets actually have right now, and Oswalt is showing flashes of being able to contribute at the big league level.
If Oswalt goes out on Sunday and gets lit up, the Mets can easily send him back to the minor leagues to start every five days and put Vargas back in the rotation after the All Star Break. Even though Vargas is signed through next season, his performance doesn’t warrant an immediate return to the rotation at the expense of Oswalt, who unlike the veteran has consistently improved each time he’s taken the mound. Oswalt’s ceiling may be as a fourth or fifth starter in the rotation, but Vargas has been at best a mop up man with his performance this season, so the Mets should give the rookie a chance to see if he can deliver back to back solid performances against good lineups. There is literally nothing to lose and everything to gain by letting Oswalt start on Sunday, but given the Mets’ history of hesitating to play the youngsters it wouldn’t be surprising to see him bypassed for Vargas.