Lugo used his tournament run with Puerto Rico as potential launching point in fifth starter battle.
The hottest battle in Mets camp has been for the fifth starting spot. While Robert Gsellman has been humming along in Spring Training games, Seth Lugo had a staunchly different tune-up in the World Baseball Classic. Lugo pitched for runner-up, Puerto Rico in the tournament and started the championship game.
Lugo expressed his thoughts on his decision to pitch in the WBC:
"“It’s something I had to make a decision about before I decided to play with them. Something I talked to Ricky (Bones) about. They’ve got cameras on us all the time, so I figured it was the same as being here.”"
That didn’t mean that the games were just a plain, old Spring Training-like games. In actuality, Lugo loved the atmosphere in which pitched, which is a little like the postseason.
"“It was huge, playing in that kind of situation with those kinds of fans,” Lugo said. “It was something I never experienced before.”"
The WBC also allowed Lugo to learn more about himself, his background, and share a completely unique experience.
"“But I learned a lot about my culture and heritage,” Lugo said. “I made some good friends and it’s an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. I am glad I did it.”"
Beyond the numbers (2-1, 4.20 ERA), Lugo got something that Gsellman and Zack Wheeler have not: the chance to face professional competition in higher pressure situations. That level of experience could be a factor in determining who wins the job out of camp.
Meanwhile, Gsellman has done nothing to lose the job. He’s pitched to a 1.56 ERA in 17.1 innings over five appearances (four starts). On Thursday, Gsellman faced most of the Washington Nationals Opening Day lineup and held them to one unearned run on four hits over 5.1 innings.
If Lugo does lose out on the job, it’s not because of his World Baseball Classic appearance. If anything, it made his case even stronger. The fact that the presumed favorite in Gsellman hasn’t buckled in his own right makes it tough for Lugo to earn the spot. Still, we may very well see Lugo in some spot starts throughout the season.
The World Baseball Classic has undergone its fair share of criticism, but it stands as a sizable proving ground in Lugo’s case. Having to face Venezuela and USA twice offers much more overall. And whether he wins the job or not, Lugo has parlayed his role in Puerto Rico’s tournament run while opening more eyes in the process.
With a week and a half left until the season gets underway, one thing is for certain: Lugo and Gsellman are doing everything to prove that they can extrapolate their late season success in 2016 to a full season in 2017. And though one will earn that opportunity in April, both should be heavily utilized.