The last time Chris Flexen pitched for the Mets, he gave a decisive 11th inning home run to Justin Turner in an 8-7 loss to the Dodgers.
That was two weeks ago. Flexen will start today against the Rays as the Mets try to take the rubber game of the series against Tampa Bay. Flexen is also here because the Mets have a doubleheader against the Phillies on Monday, with Zack Wheeler and Corey Oswalt starting the two games.
Flexen has an ERA of 10.80 in three relief appearance this season, due in large part to a beating he took in Milwaukee in a late May game.
“I think he needs to be able to establish his fastball early in the count, down away, get strike one and then be able to offset that with his breaking stuff, and then be able to use his fastball to go in off the plate to help his breaking stuff offset the fastball down and away,” Mickey Callaway said.
Flexen has experience as a starter, having made nine starts with the Mets last year, so this isn’t a make it up as they go along bullpen game like two weeks ago when Callaway started Jerry Blevins and had to use seven pitchers in 11 innings after a Jason Vargas injury left the team a starter short.
Flexen is 4-6 with a 4.84 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) this season in Triple-A Las Vegas. Even though he pitched for the Mets during the final two months of 2017, this was the first time he pitched in Las Vegas, as the team called him up from Double-A last season in a move that even surprised Flexen. He was the first starting pitcher the Mets called up from Double-A since Mike Pelfrey in 2006.
Last year, the right-hander had a 7.85 ERA in eight starts before being moved to the bullpen, although he made one more start in late September. He finished his rookie season 3-6 with a 7.88 ERA in 14 appearances.
In defense of Flexen, he really wasn’t ready to pitch in the majors, but was called up after a Zack Wheeler injury in a season where hardly any Mets stayed healthy. He did pitch better out of the bullpen, with three scoreless appearances in a row, and at least he has some big league experience under his belt. It’s not as if his struggles cost the Mets a chance at the playoffs last season either.
A common theme was that he would struggle in the first inning before settling down. Terry Collins told SNY last year that it was possibly because he was excited about starting and then would settle into the flow of the game.
The walks were a problem for Flexen last year, whether it was control or being intimidated by big league hitters. In Double-A, he walked seven batters in 48.2 innings. With the Mets, he walked 35 batters in 48 innings.
“He’s still working on a lot of phases of his game,” Callaway said. “He’s a great young guy that wants to pitch really well and he’s very motivated and he has decent stuff and he’s going to continue to learn more and more about who he is as a pitcher, especially at the Major League level and what it takes to go out there and put a quality start together.”