As the Mets struggled through May — in the bullpen, on defense and at the plate — they did so knowing help was on the way. In essence, they hoped to tread water until several injured regulars returned.
Anthony Swarzak, signed to a $14 million deal in the off-season to provide a stable arm in the back of the bullpen, had been out since the first week of the season with a left oblique injury. Third baseman Todd Frazier, another key off-season addition at the cost of $17 million, was among the Mets’ most consistent offensive and defensive players before he landed on the disabled list on May 8 with a left hamstring strain.
Both returned on Tuesday, but it was not enough to save the Mets (27-31) from their fifth straight defeat. In a 2-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles (18-41), the worst team in baseball, the Mets’ bats were meek again; they have scored seven runs over their past 50 innings.
The Mets mustered three hits over all, and just one run against Orioles starter Alex Cobb, who entered the game with a 6.80 earned run average. The Mets began to put together a rally in the fifth inning, scoring on a sacrifice fly by Jose Bautista, but were unable to turn the opportunity into anything more, a common fault this season.
“We have to try and create some runs,” Callaway said.
The starting pitching has been a strength of late, and Jason Vargas continued that trend by allowing two runs over five innings on Tuesday — but that was all the Orioles needed against the Mets’ offense.
In their returns, Swarzak fired a scoreless ninth inning and Frazier went 0 for 4. Two players alone, however, cannot turn these struggling Mets around. Two aspects of Frazier’s game were missed most during the first disabled list stint of his career: his ability to get on base and his defense. In his absence, the Mets primarily used a mixture of Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores and the rookie Luis Guillorme. They hit a combined .219 with one home run in Frazier’s absence. And when Flores, who is out with a back injury, and Reyes played, the defense was jagged.
The Mets also missed Frazier’s animated personality, especially during this lethargic stretch.
“We missed him just being on the bench, even when he wasn’t playing, because he brings so much energy,” Callaway said.
“It was tough watching the games and not being able to be a part of it,” said Swarzak, adding later, “Watching from TV, from 2,000 miles away, it was more frustrating because I couldn’t be there. And once that wore off, I just tried to work hard to get back here.”
Swarzak was on Tuesday, and others will perhaps join him there soon.
Nearly three hours before the first pitch on Tuesday, two more key injured players took steps toward their return. Noah Syndergaard, who has been out since last week with a strained ligament in his right index finger, pitched to outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and other teammates in a simulated game.
Cespedes has been out since May 14 with a right hip flexor injury. The strain was described as mild, yet Cespedes is still not back, which has surprised some team officials.
The Mets have penciled in Sunday as a return for Syndergaard while Cespedes has more to go. Cespedes, who has declined to speak to reporters since he first hurt his leg, was expected to test his legs with running drills on Wednesday.
Even when Syndergaard and Cespedes rejoin Frazier and Swarzak, will it be enough to turn this team around?