Jason Vargas lit up in season debut as Mets get obliterated

SAN DIEGO — Jason Vargas’ right hand was not an issue Saturday in his Mets return. But the veteran pitcher’s left hand was another story altogether.

In a brutal shellacking that just kept going, Vargas was pounded by one sledgehammer after another in the Mets’ 12-2 loss to the Padres at Petco Park.

Vargas, who spent the past month rehabbing after surgery to remove the hamate bone in his right, non-throwing hand, was mercifully removed after 3 ²/₃ innings in which he allowed nine earned runs on nine hits with three walks.

“I made some mistakes early, got behind and I got them into some situations where they felt good swinging the bat and it just kept rolling from there,” Vargas said. “I wasn’t able to put some guys away with two strikes or two outs and just kept letting them extend innings.”

The Mets (16-9) lost for the third time in four games and are assured a losing road trip. But a victory in Sunday’s rubber game would at least allow them the dignity of claiming a series victory for the first time in two weeks.

Much of the carnage was completed during a first inning in which the Padres sent eight batters to the plate and stroked five hits that accounted for four runs.

“He left too many pitches in the middle,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “He didn’t get the ball where he wanted.”

The Mets signed the 35-year-old Vargas to a two-year contract worth $16 million in spring training with the idea he could bring stability to a rotation besieged by question marks. But Vargas might need to be added to that list of uncertainties.

One such question mark, Zack Wheeler, will receive the ball Sunday and attempt to rebound from a lackluster performance against the Cardinals. Steven Matz has also been underwhelming, and struggling Matt Harvey was reassigned to the bullpen because Callaway needed the rotation spot for Vargas.

That leaves Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, who thankfully for the Mets, are pitching at the high level that was expected. All told, Mets starters not named Syndergaard or deGrom have pitched to a 6.11 ERA this season.

“The fortune of the situation is I’m going to take the ball in five days and get a chance to pitch again,” Vargas said. “That’s the nature of the game and I definitely didn’t want to come out and get hammered like that tonight. Just get ready for the next time out.”

Vargas sustained the broken hamate bone on a line drive during a minor league exhibition near the end of spring training, and there was originally thought he might try to pitch through it after undergoing the surgery. But with concern about how the pitcher would field his position, Vargas was placed on the disabled list. Though he maintained throwing during his DL stint, Vargas appeared in only one minor-league rehab game, last Monday for Triple-A Las Vegas.

“He threw from behind a screen for a month and then got to face live hitters without a screen one time, so I am sure that was a factor,” Callaway said.

Austin Hedges’ two-run single in the third buried the Mets in a 6-0 hole, but Vargas at least escaped the inning with a runner stranded at second. Jose Pirela and Freddy Galvis each singled in the inning, and swiped third and second respectively as part of a double steal. Hedges brought them both in with his two-out single.

The second inning would have been at least as equally disastrous for Vargas had Juan Lagares not reached above the fence in left-center to steal a home run from Christian Villanueva. It was a rebound play for Lagares, who appeared to take a circuitous route on Manuel Margot’s fly ball in the first inning that became a two-run triple.

Villanueva crushed a full-count pitch for a two-run homer after Eric Hosmer had walked with one out in the first. In the inning Vargas surrendered five hits, all of which were struck sharply.

Seth Lugo replaced Vargas in the fourth and allowed three earned runs over 2 ¹/₃ innings. The right-hander initially replaced Vargas in the rotation as spring training concluded, but his first scheduled start was rained out and he later emerged as a dependable multi-inning relief option for Callaway.

Vargas was making his first start for the Mets since July 3, 2007. After that season he was traded to Arizona as part of the package that brought reliever J.J. Putz to the Mets.

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