Mets clip Nationals as Rick Porcello steps up

WASHINGTON — The battle between 2016 Cy Young award-winners ended with one injured and the other in control.

If you guessed Rick Porcello as the injured, given the Mets’ health misfortunes this week and Max Scherzer’s ability to dominate, wrong answer.

In the kind of performance the team envisioned when it gave Porcello a one-year contract for $10 million last offseason, the right-hander rebounded from two short starts (one of which was abysmal) and carried the Mets to a 3-1 victory over the Nationals.

Scherzer, appearing uncomfortable, allowed a run in the first inning and never returned to the mound for the second, departing with what was termed a tweaked right hamstring. It left the Nationals to string together a bullpen game, albeit effectively, as the Mets scored just twice over the next eight innings.

Porcello was efficient, needing just 81 pitches to finish seven innings in which he allowed one run on five hits for career victory No. 150. It followed Porcello’s four-inning performance in Atlanta last Friday in which manager Luis Rojas brought a quick hook and a nightmarish two-inning start in his Mets debut that included seven runs allowed against the Braves.

“When I’m throwing the ball like tonight I feel I give us a chance to win every time out and that is the most important thing,” Porcello said.

Rick PorcelloAP

The Mets helped him with two defensive beauties. In the fourth, third baseman J.D. Davis lunged to his right and threw from his knees to retire Eric Thames for the final out. It came moments after Michael Conforto threw out Juan Soto attempting to reach third on Asdrubal Cabrera’s single.

“I guess there’s a little bit of momentum there when you are getting ground balls, guys are making some great plays and things are working,” Porcello said. “You want to keep that pace working, it forces them to put it in play. They hit a lot of balls and from what I remember we made all the plays.”

Seth Lugo, who hadn’t pitched since last Friday when he was hit with a blown save during a bullpen meltdown in Atlanta, pitched two shutout innings to preserve Porcello’s gem. The save was Lugo’s second.

The banged up Mets (5-8) can enjoy Thursday’s rest before beginning a stretch of 17 straight days with a game scheduled. Included are four games against the Nationals at Citi Field next week.

The Mets began the day leading MLB with runners left on base and added to that total with nine additional, but managed to receive enough from their lineup. That included two RBIs from Dominic Smith and another from Luis Guillorme, starting in injured Robinson Cano’s spot at second base. Smith gave the Mets a cushion with an RBI double in the seventh.

Porcello surrendered a run in the first inning on Soto’s RBI double, but wasn’t touched afterward. Soto, who returned to the cleanup spot, had missed the Nationals’ previous eight games to open the season after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“[Porcello] kept the ball down very well,” Rojas said. “He mixed so well, induced a lot of contact, kept a good pitch count. What a great performance to earn the 150th win for his career.”

Scherzer’s removal after the first inning marked the second time this week the Mets faced an ace from within the division and watched him depart with an ailment. On Monday, Braves right-hander Mike Soroka tore his right Achilles while breaking from the mound. Soroka will be sidelined into next season.

Smith’s sacrifice fly in the first gave the Mets their run after Scherzer had walked Brandon Nimmo leading off the game and Conforto singled him to third.

“We did a good job grinding [Scherzer] out in the first inning,” Davis said. “We got him close to 30 pitches. … We did a good job and this kind of game is a good step forward for the team to put everything together and hopefully we can get this thing snowballing.”