PORT ST. LUCIE — On the surface it appears the Mets have an open-and-shut case.
Jacob Barnes and Joey Lucchesi combined Saturday about as well as manager Luis Rojas could have wanted, as the Mets experimented with an opener for the first time. The test came against a seasoned Astros lineup that included stars Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman at the top of the order.
The veteran Barnes fired a perfect first inning before the left-hander Lucchesi entered and controlled the next 4 ²/₃, allowing one run.
“There’s a lot of good things that happened with Barnes and Lucchesi,” Rojas said after the Mets won 8-3 at Clover Park. “There could be other guys as well, but that was a good first test.”
Barnes, 30, had started one game previously in his career — in an emergency situation for which he had little time to prepare — so Saturday wasn’t exactly a familiar situation for him.
“It was a little different as far as trying to time up everything,” said Barnes, who was claimed off waivers from the Angels last offseason and tendered a contract.
“Normally in the pen they call down there and are like, ‘Hey, you have got a batter or two [to get ready],’ so having a little more free time was a little bit of adjustment, but I tried to take it as much like coming out of the bullpen as I could. I even kept myself in the bullpen and went straight to the mound, trying to keep it somewhat normal.”
The opener experiment is occurring as the Mets try to decide how to fill their remaining rotation vacancy following the torn right hamstring that will keep Carlos Carrasco sidelined to begin the season.
The situation is new for the 27-year-old Lucchesi, who has never been used behind an opener.
“I will do whatever they tell me,” Lucchesi said. “I like starting. If they want to do an opener they can do that. I am just out there to pitch and do my best to help us win ball games. I just love pitching, love to be on that field.”
Other than Lucchesi, with an opener ahead of him, Rojas is considering lefty Mike Montgomery, who is scheduled to start Sunday against the Marlins in an exhibition game. Montgomery is also a possibility for the bullpen, where Aaron Loup is the only left-hander locked into a roster spot.
Barnes intrigues the Mets because of his high strikeout percentage — he whiffed 24 batters in 18 innings last season — and control (he walked only four batters). But he also pitched to a 5.50 ERA in 18 appearances.
Altuve struck out looking on a Barnes fastball to begin the game before Brantley grounded out. Bregman was caught looking to conclude the inning.
Rojas cited Barnes’ low pitch count (16 in the inning) as beneficial because it would allow the right-hander to pitch again the following day if needed in relief.
“We obviously have seen [the opener] over the past couple of years and you are always kind of curious as a bullpen guy because you are so used to such little notice,” Barnes said. “Most of us at this point are used to the one batter, two batter before you are in the game thing, so that adjustment is probably the biggest thing.”
Lucchesi, acquired from the Padres in a three-way trade that included the Pirates, said he was “on the fence” emotionally when he was dealt to the Mets, but he’s enjoying his new situation.
“I’m all about the Mets,” Lucchesi said. “I am all about helping this team compete for a championship. I’m here to get it going and go to war with these guys.”