Evans, Lugo, Rhame on Mets' opening day roster for 1st time
The team announced Sunday that Lugo, reliever Jacob Rhame and utilityman Phillip Evans will be making their first appearances on opening day, each part of the 25-man roster when the Mets host the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday.
''I'm so excited,'' said the 25-year-old Evans, who briefly played for the Mets last season. ''Being around these veteran guys that I grew up watching has been very special to me. Being able to help this team win will be extremely exciting.''
Evans's versatility will be his biggest attribute. The longtime infielder played six positions in camp, and he hit .261 with a pair of homers.
Evans played in the outfield and also donned the catcher's gear for the first time in his career, giving the Mets an emergency option behind regular backstops Travis d'Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki.
Mets manager Mickey Callaway said the strong play of Evans made the possibility of a seven-man bullpen a reality.
''Evans made us make that decision more than anything. He showed us how valuable he's going to be off the bench,'' Callaway said.
Lugo got a suggestion from the Mets' new staff: Use his best weapon.
The right-handed Lugo, known for the high spin rate on his tight curveball, said Callaway and pitching coach Dave Eiland told him to use the pitch more often.
''They encouraged me to throw my curveball. That's one thing I've had in the back of my mind. Some pitching coaches don't want to throw too many breaking ball. You know, attack with fastballs,'' he said.
Lugo's curve gained attention in a game against Miami two years ago. He snapped off a nasty 1-2 hook that struck out Marlins batter Xavier Scruggs swinging. The spin rate on the taut pitch registered 3,498 rpm, setting a major league record as the most highly spun curve in the Statcast era.
''They told me, `Use that curveball, don't be afraid to throw it.' So I've been throwing it a lot more. I'm getting more comfortable with it. I feel like it's finally where I want it to be,'' Lugo said Sunday.
The advice paid off this spring as the 28-year-old Lugo was chosen as the fifth starter in the rotation. He was picked over Zack Wheeler, optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas on Saturday.
The 27-year-old Wheeler was the front-runner for the fifth spot, but his poor spring numbers - an 8.10 ERA and 22 hits allowed in 10 innings - cost him a chance to join Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz from the start.
A start Thursday night against the Washington Nationals got away from Wheeler early as he was shelled in his final audition for a roster spot, allowing five runs on seven hits in just two innings.
Lugo seized the chance to secure a spot, and he turned in an excellent effort in relief of Wheeler, twirling a four-inning scoreless stint.
Rhame, 25, was acquired from the Dodgers last August in the trade that sent Curtis Granderson to Los Angeles for their postseason run to the World Series. The right-hander posted a 5.06 ERA in 11 relief appearances with 10 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings this spring.
NOTES: After a poor Grapefruit League opening in which he gave up 10 earned runs in less than two innings in his first two outings, LHP Steven Matz worked four scoreless innings in his last appearance in camp. He allowed two hits and struck out four in the 57-pitch start Sunday against the Marlins. ''I feel ready, feel healthy and strong and I feel like I've got my command, which is huge, on the fastball. I made a few minor tweaks working with (pitching coach) Dave (Eiland) on my mechanics,'' Matz said. . The Mets will hold an intrasquad game against Triple-A affiliate Las Vegas to close camp on Monday. RHPs deGrom, Harvey, Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos, Anthony Swarzak, Gsellman, Rhame and Paul Sewald, in addition to LHP Jerry Blevins, are scheduled to pitch.