ST. LOUIS -- By now, the New York Mets figured they would be reassigning Bartolo Colon to the bullpen, with an embarrassment of starting-pitching riches further buoyed by the return of Zack Wheeler from Tommy John surgery.
Instead, Matt Harvey has undergone season-ending surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome, Steven Matz is on the disabled list with a shoulder strain and the latest Wheeler setback casts doubt on whether he will contribute at all in 2016.
Seth Lugo, who?
Lugo, 26, is a 34th-round pick in 2011 out of Centenary College in his native Shreveport, Louisiana, who missed his first full professional season after undergoing lumbar spinal fusion surgery.
"We saw it as if I wanted to pitch again, I needed to have that surgery. They didn't tell me I could never pitch again until the doctor told me that the day of the surgery. A couple of hours before, I'm starting to second-guess it. But the nurse came in and reassured me, 'He says that to everyone. Don't worry about it.'" Seth Lugo
Shortly before his first spring training in 2012, Lugo began experiencing back spasms during an abdominal exercise and was sore for a few days, but dismissed the issue. Things then got far more severe. After reporting to Mets camp in Port St. Lucie, Florida, he felt radiating pain down his right leg, which ultimately was determined as being caused by nerve damage.
After the procedure, Lugo was confined to a bed in his mother’s home for three full months.
“I was losing the mobility of my right leg. It was numb, tingly, painful,” Lugo said. “I was losing a bunch of muscle mass in it, too. That sciatic nerve was just too much. It wasn’t a whole lot of back pain. It all radiated through my leg. I got one of my buddies to move my mattress in front of the living-room TV. And that was my little area for three months. I could walk around and stuff, but I couldn’t bend over, twist. I couldn’t do any activities or anything, so I just watched TV and played video games.
“We saw it as if I wanted to pitch again, I needed to have that surgery. They didn’t tell me I could never pitch again until the doctor told me that the day of the surgery. A couple of hours before, I’m starting to second-guess it. But the nurse came in and reassured me, 'He says that to everyone. Don’t worry about it.'"
Of course he would pitch again -- by the very next season, splitting his time between Brooklyn and Savannah in 2013, and posting a 4-6 record with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts.
Lugo's full name is actually Jacob Seth Lugo, but he has gone by Seth since birth as a compromise between his parents.
“I actually asked my dad that and found out two years ago,” Lugo said. “My dad wanted me to be named Jacob. His grandpa was Jacob Daniel. ... But my mom didn’t like the name Jacob. So they said I could have the first name Jacob, but I’ve got to go by Seth.”
Lugo’s fastball velocity had wide swings as recently as last year in the minors, ranging between 85 mph and 95 mph depending on the start. He has solved that issue, though, and has averaged 92.5 mph at the major league level.
“It was just me trying to hit a spot instead of just throwing as hard as I can and forgetting where it goes,” Lugo said.
Lugo made his major league debut July 1, when he tossed two scoreless relief innings in a 10-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs. After nine relief appearances in total, and a 10-day detour back to Triple-A Las Vegas, Lugo stepped into the rotation in place of Matz on Friday in San Francisco. He ultimately was charged with the loss, but two of the three runs assigned to him scored in the seventh after he surrendered a double, then issued an intentional walk to Joe Panik and departed with two outs.
Lugo had been 3-4 with a 6.50 ERA in 21 appearances (14 starts) with Las Vegas this season.
“Sometimes they get anxious out there and they want to impress and they want to try harder than what he should. But he didn’t,” catcher Rene Rivera said about Lugo’s first big league start.
“His composure was good. He knew what he wanted to do out there. He just kept it simple and threw strikes. That’s what most impressed me there -- his composure. All the pitches he threw there were good. His curveball was nasty. His changeup was real, real good. His cutter was good. The fastball velocity was there.
"He learned how to add and subtract from his fastball. Sometimes you see 92 mph, and the next pitch 96. He’s been learning how to pitch quickly. From the way I saw him in Triple-A and here, he’s made a big adjustment.”
Said Lugo about his experience against the Giants: “That’s what I take away from it -- my pitches work. The second and third time through the lineup, they’re still as effective as they were the first time through the lineup.”