ST. LOUIS — Through this stretch of inconsistent play the least of manager Luis Rojas’ worries has been starting pitching.
Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Taijuan Walker and David Peterson have all met or exceeded expectations, and the inordinate number of days off had allowed the Mets to forgo a fifth starter.
Monday night Rojas needed that No. 5 starter (with it deemed best to give deGrom extra rest), entrusted the ball to Joey Lucchesi and stuck with the left-hander too long in a 6-5 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium that snapped their two-game winning streak.
Lucchesi got jumped in the third inning, when he allowed five straight two-out hits. The biggest was Nolan Arenado’s three-run homer after the Cardinals slugger had appeared to strike out, but received new life when plate umpire Mark Carlson ruled a foul tip on the swing.
The Mets had a third straight solid offensive performance, but their failure to add on after early success against Adam Wainwright doomed them. Francisco Lindor, who extended his hitless drought to 0-for-21, was part of the problem. He batted in the sixth with the tying and go-ahead runs on base and was retired for the final out.
Lindor and Pete Alonso walked in the ninth and were left on base as Alex Reyes retired Dominic Smith for the final out.
Rojas cited the need for length in giving Lucchesi the start over bullpen options such as Robert Gsellman and Sean Reid-Foley. The lefty Lucchesi hadn’t pitched since April 22 in Chicago, spending a week-plus at the Mets’ alternate site camp before joining the taxi squad over the weekend.
Lucchesi was scored upon in each of the three innings he pitched. Tommy Edman’s triple leading off the game for the Cardinals led to the game’s first run, on Dylan Carlson’s sacrifice fly.
Harrison’s Bader’s two-out homer in the second tied it 2-2 before Lucchesi unraveled in the third. Arenado’s blast brought in Carlson and Paul Goldschmidt, who had singled. After the homer, Paul DeJong and Tyler O’Neill doubled in succession against Lucchesi to put the Mets in a 6-5 hole.
Lucchesi’s final line included six earned runs allowed on seven hits over 2 ²/₃ innings with one walk and one strikeout. The Mets will need a fifth starter again Saturday when they face the Diamondbacks and may again have to decide among Lucchesi, Gsellman and Reid-Foley, the latter two of whom combined to pitch 4 ¹/₃ innings of scoreless relief. Carlos Carrasco is scheduled to throw six innings in a simulated game Tuesday, after which Mets officials will decide whether the right-hander should be slotted into the rotation or pitch in a minor league game. Carrasco has been sidelined since spring training, when he tore his right hamstring.
Kevin Pillar, who started in center field for a second straight night with Brandon Nimmo nursing a finger injury, smashed a two-run homer against Wainwright in the third that extended the Mets’ lead to 5-2. The rally started with Michael Conforto drawing a walk, before Alonso doubled him to third. Smith’s RBI ground out produced the inning’s first run.
Alonso and Pillar combined an inning earlier to lead a two-run charge. After Alonso doubled leading off the inning and Pillar singled — taking second on the throw home — Jonathan Villar was intentionally walked to load the bases. Wainwright plunked Tomas Nido to force in a run and Jeff McNeil drew a two-out walk to bring home another.