Mets, Phillies turn to surprising starting pitchers

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The Philadelphia Phillies would be quite pleased if Spencer Howard continues to develop into a solid fifth starter, but their rotation depth provides them some margin for error in case Howard endures rookie struggles.

The New York Mets not only need Seth Lugo to continue turning into their second-best starter, they can’t afford for him not to do so.

The Phillies will look to continue surging and deal another blow to the Mets’ playoff hopes on Saturday night, when the two National League East rivals meet in the second game of a four-game series at Citi Field in New York.

Howard (1-1, 5.40 ERA) is scheduled to oppose Lugo (1-2, 2.12 ERA) in a battle of right-handers.

For Howard, he’ll be looking to follow an impressive performance by teammate Jake Arrieta, who allowed two runs over seven innings and earned the win Friday in the Phillies’ 5-3 victory.

Arrieta’s performance marked the 15th time this season a Phillies starting pitcher has gone at least six innings and the sixth time it’s happened in the last 11 games, during which Philadelphia (19-15) has gone 10-1 to move into second place in the NL East and close within two games of the Atlanta Braves.

Every current member of the Phillies’ rotation except Howard — who has yet to last beyond five innings in any of his four big-league starts — has at least two six-inning outings this season.

“The starters have done a pretty good job of giving us distance in this streak that we’ve been in,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Friday night. “We’ve not really had to overwork anyone and we’ve been able to give (relievers) certain days off. So it’s really important and it’s going to be really important as we move forward, too.”

Rick Porcello didn’t factor into the decision after surrendering two runs in six innings Friday night for the Mets, whose starters have lasted at least six innings 12 times.

But Porcello (four) and two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom (five) have combined for nine of those outings, and while deGrom entered Friday with the fourth-lowest ERA (1.76) in the NL, Porcello headed to the mound with a 6.00 ERA, the ninth-highest mark among pitchers who made at least seven starts.

“Right now it’s a real challenge,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said prior to Friday’s game. “What we’re looking for is consistency and any possible length that (starters) can give us.”

The Mets (17-22), who are two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the race for the final NL playoff spot, converted Lugo from late-inning reliever to starter late last month in hopes he could emerge as a reliable option behind deGrom. Lugo has shown promise in two starts by striking out 12 and allowing just one run, but those outings lasted a combined 6 2/3 innings.

Howard earned his first career win on Monday when he allowed two runs over five innings as the Phillies beat the Washington Nationals 8-6. Lugo didn’t factor into the decision in his most recent outing Sunday, when he gave up one run over 3 2/3 innings as the Mets fell to the Yankees 5-2 in eight innings.

Howard made his lone appearance against the Mets on Aug. 14, when he gave up four runs (three earned) over 3 1/3 innings and didn’t factor into the decision in the Phillies’ 6-5 win. Lugo is 0-1 with a 3.63 ERA and two saves in 17 games (three starts) against Philadelphia.

–Field Level Media

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