NEW YORK -- The New York Mets will hope Tuesday night is the first time they get to see Jason Vargas pitch beyond the fifth inning. The Cincinnati Reds will hope it's the last time they aren't able to pencil Joey Votto's name into the starting lineup.
Votto is expected to sit out for the second time in three games Tuesday, when the visiting Reds battle the Mets in the middle contest of a three-game series at Citi Field.
The left-handed Vargas (2-7, 8.23 ERA) is scheduled to oppose Reds right-hander Sal Romano (6-9, 5.12 ERA).
The Mets earned a 6-4 victory in the opener Monday night, when Wilmer Flores collected two RBIs and Kevin Plawecki and Jeff MacNeil each hit solo homers.
Votto's stature with the Reds (49-64) and his durability -- Sunday's game against the Washington Nationals was the first one he's missed this season and the ninth he's sat out since the start of the 2015 campaign -- means there is always the chance he'll talk his way into the lineup against Vargas.
But Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said he wasn't going to start Votto, who went 2-for-4 with a bases-loaded walk Monday despite playing through an increasingly sore and swollen right knee. Votto was injured Saturday when he was plunked by the Nationals' Ryan Madson.
"Joey Votto really gutted it through that game -- that ball that he took the other day off the knee, tonight, he just got sorer and sorer," Riggleman said. "That shot he took is really getting worse through the night tonight."
Votto said he felt fine during batting practice before the knee began to throb during a first-inning at-bat in which he poked an opposite-field single down the third-base line vacated by the shift.
"I started playing during the game and I couldn't turn it over, I couldn't really get it going," Votto said. "I don't like putting the manager in a position where (he's got to say) 'I've got to come out.' You burn a member of the bench, it jacks up his bench. So I wanted to stick it out."
Votto said it was too early to know if he would be available to pinch-hit. The Reds will likely also be without Preston Tucker, who was hit by a pitch on his foot and was seen in a walking boot and crutches afterward.
Perhaps facing the undermanned Reds can help Vargas snap an inauspicious streak. The 35-year-old has lasted five innings or fewer in all 11 of his starts this year, the longest stretch to open a season by a true starter in big league history. The Tampa Bay Rays' Ryne Stanek has lasted two innings or fewer in all 17 of his starts as Tampa Bay's "opener" this year.
The Mets (46-64) saw some signs Vargas, who has endured two stints on the disabled list because of hand and calf injuries this season, could be ready to turn a corner in his most recent start Thursday, when he took the loss after giving up four runs over five innings as New York fell to the Atlanta Braves 4-2. Flores failed to turn a potential double play during the Braves' three-run third inning before Vargas retired seven of the final nine batters he faced.
"I thought he threw the ball OK -- he had to get a few more outs than he probably should have, but I thought his stuff was good, crisp (and) had some swings and miss(es)," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said of Vargas, who tied a season high with seven strikeouts. "Kept the ball down for the most part. That's your typical Vargas. Kept us in the game and did his job."
Romano took the loss in his most recent start Wednesday, when he allowed four runs over 5 1/3 innings as the Reds fell to the Detroit Tigers, 7-4.
Vargas is 1-1 with a 6.28 ERA in three career starts against the Reds. Romano is 1-0 with a 3.18 ERA in three career starts against the Mets. The 24-year-old, who was born on nearby Long Island and grew up about two hours away in Southington, Conn., is expected to have plenty of family and friends at Tuesday's game.