Another poor outing from Adrian Houser casts concern over the Mets’ starting rotation



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NEW YORK — The booing intensified in the first inning as Adrian Houser walked off the mound after facing all nine of the St. Louis Cardinals’ batters and allowing four runs. Over time, Houser decreased the loud displeasure from the crowd to some occasional groans — until things again unraveled within a few innings. With one out in the top of the fourth inning, Houser retreated to the dugout listening to another chorus of boos.

The New York Mets lost, 7-4, to the Cardinals on Saturday. New York (13-13) has dropped five of its past six games. The Mets’ rally in the ninth inning fizzled with Francisco Lindor (0-for-5, four strikeouts) popping out to Cardinals shortstop Masyn Winn with the bases loaded to end the game. Ultimately, Houser’s outing put the Mets in a hole they couldn’t dig out of.

Houser allowed six earned runs, nine hits and two walks in just 4 2/3 innings. He has an 8.37 ERA and a 14 percent walk rate, both highest among the Mets’ starters. He has not logged more than 5 1/3 innings in any of his five starts.

When asked if the club remained committed to Houser being in the rotation, Mets manager Carlos Mendoza said, “Our job is to get him back on track. He’s part of the rotation. I know (Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner) is working really hard and he is, too. He’s been in the league for quite a bit now, and he’ll get through it.”

Houser relies on his sinker, but he didn’t have good command of the pitch and either missed out of the zone or left too many pitches over the middle. He didn’t mix things up with his other pitches until the damage was already done in the first inning.

“The way I am pitching now is pretty unacceptable,” Houser said. “Need to be better. Can’t be putting these guys in a hole right at the beginning of the game.”

 

Houser’s struggles look familiar to some snags he experienced while with the Milwaukee Brewers, said one rival evaluator who has scouted Houser for multiple years. At his best, Houser’s sinker generates grounders, which solid defensive teams can consistently convert to outs. But things can get troubling when the pitch betrays Houser, whose misses out of the strike zone often don’t look enticing enough for batters to swing at.

Despite Houser’s struggles, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the Mets continue to stick with him in the hopes he turns things around. Over his eight-year career, Houser has produced mostly league-average numbers (4.12 ERA, 103 ERA+). The Mets recently had to turn to Julio Teheran to fill a spot, and with pitcher injuries piling up around the league, depth in terms of experienced starters isn’t an easy thing to cut ties with (Houser doesn’t have minor-league options). Underscoring that point, the Mets may soon want to insert a sixth starter because of their schedule.

The Mets do have a couple of other alternatives, though, and more seem to be on the way. Tylor Megill threw two scoreless innings in a rehab appearance with High-A Brooklyn on Saturday. Megill has been out since the first week of the season when he strained his shoulder in his initial start of the year. Kodai Senga, on the 60-day injured list and ineligible to return until May 27, is slated to throw a live batting practice session on Monday — the first time he’d face hitters in his recovery from the shoulder injury that has sidelined the Mets’ ace since early spring training. In Triple A, Joey Lucchesi, Max Kranick and top pitching prospect Christian Scott linger as options.

Houser may stand out as the biggest culprit, but as a whole, the Mets’ rotation has struggled with command, which has led to short outings and extra work for the bullpen. The Mets’ starters lead Major League Baseball in walk rate (12.5 percent). They are also tied with three other teams for second in hit batters (nine) despite facing fewer batters than the teams they are tied with and the one in front of them. The Mets’ starters average just five innings per outing.

The Mets’ bullpen has taken a couple of hits lately with right-hander Drew Smith (right shoulder soreness) and lefty Brooks Raley (left elbow inflammation) on the injured list. Raley, who has been out since April 21, said he has resumed throwing. Smith, whose placement on the 15-day IL is retroactive to April 24, isn’t expected to be out much longer than two weeks, Mendoza said.

Even without them, the Mets’ bullpen has continued to be a strength. The other alternative for the Mets beyond tapping a different starter is to continue to ask a lot out of multi-inning relievers. Could the Mets just be the kind of team that needs to rely on its bullpen because of the way the rotation was assembled or the way it is performing? Maybe. Can they win with such a method? Maybe, though Saturday’s game revealed the pitfalls; if the team is facing a huge hole after one inning, it doesn’t matter as much for that game’s result that an ace reliever is coming in next.

But one clearer, classic way of helping to ensure that the bullpen stays a strength: the starters — whoever they are — picking up more of the load with more effective, longer-lasting outings. That’s something Mendoza said he still believes will happen.

“Our approach has always been, get ahead, attack the strike zone, and right now, we’re not doing it as a whole,” Mendoza said. “Certain guys are not doing it. That’s why we are having trouble putting zeroes there, especially early in the game with some of our starters. But this is something where Hef is working hard, they’re working hard, we’re doing everything we can. They’ll get better.”

(Photo of Adrian Houser: John Jones / USA Today)





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