Rick Porcello’s gem, defensive lineup just enough for Mets to down Nationals

New York Mets starting pitcher Rick Porcello (22) pitches against the Washington Nationals in the first inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In a 3-1 win on Wednesday night, Rick Porcello turned back the clock to show the New York Mets (5-8) that he’s still capable of exhibiting the stuff that won him the American League Cy Young in 2016.

After a dreadful start to his Mets career in 2020, Porcello spun together a gem on a night that was supposed to be all about his counterpart, Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer. Instead, due to an injury to the Washington ace, Porcello stole the show, allowing one run on five hits in seven innings of work which saw him retire the final 10 batters he faced and pick up the 150th win of his career.

“It’s a huge honor for me to win one ballgame in the big leagues is not easy,” Porcello said. “To be fortunate to get the opportunities year after year to get 150 it’s a huge honor.”

He did so on just 81 pitches as he pounded the strike zone early and induced plenty of weak contact that was often on the ground. 

“He kept the ball down really well. He mixed up well… he’s been working on his changeup with [Jeremy Hefner] and I saw a lot of good ones today,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said. “Good cutter, slider… two-seamer, sinker was really coming back.”

What made Wednesday night’s performance that much more surprising was that Porcello had done little to impress in his first two Mets starts. It created the feeling that the Mets were the proverbial lambs being led to slaughter with Scherzer, who has dominated New York in years past and is one of the best pitchers in baseball, toeing the rubber.

But Scherzer — who was grimacing during warmups — showed diminished velocity in his opening inning while the Mets were able to scratch out a run on a Dominic Smith sacrifice fly.

That would be all for Scherzer, who left with an apparent injury. The Nationals (4-5) did not provide any updates during the game.

Meanwhile, the Nationals tied things right back up against Porcello, who came into Wednesday night with a 13.50 ERA, as Juan Soto — fresh of his return from COVID-19 — doubled in Adam Eaton.

To Porcello’s credit, though, he battened down the hatches after the opening knock. He went six scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, to keep the struggling Mets offense in a game they desperately needed in this shortened season.

“It’s a great feeling. When you get those results, you get in that rhythm, and why change?” Porcello pondered. “If we get contact and they’re not hitting too hard and on the ground, let’s keep it going.”

He did have some help with the Mets’ best defensive alignment being set up behind him.

With the speedy and defensively-gifted Billy Hamilton making his debut for the Mets in center field, Brandon Nimmo was shifted to left, JD Davis moved to his natural spot at third base, and up the middle featured the sure gloves of Andres Gimenez and Luis Guillorme.

They offered more than enough support for Mets pitchers throughout the evening as flashy plays by Guillorme, Gimenez, Davis, and Hamilton were suddenly commonplace at Nationals Park to keep Washington at bay. Even Michael Conforto got in on the action when he gunned down Soto from right field when the Nationals’ star tried to advance from first to third on a single in the fourth.

“It was a momentum changer,” Porcello said of Conforto’s throw. “They were starting to build something there and that throw really quieted them. Unbelievable team effort all around.” 

“What a great defensive game we played,” Rojas said. “Behind Rick, a guy who gets a lot of contact, that was big.”

With the bat, Guillorme put the Mets ahead with an RBI single in the fourth off Erick Fedde, scoring JD Davis, who led the frame off with a single and advanced to second on another single by Andres Gimenez.

They added another run in the seventh when Smith doubled home Brandon Nimmo for his second RBI of the night as he continues to take advantage of the departure of Yoenis Cespedes by taking over his designated-hitter spot.

Despite appearing in just eight of the Mets’ first 13 games, Smith is tied for the team lead with seven RBI.

Porcello’s seven on Wednesday night ensured an easy night for the Mets’ bullpen as Seth Lugo came in and converted a two-inning save without allowing a baserunner. 

But after his first good start in a Mets uniform, Porcello isn’t feeling any sort of relief.

“No because we’ve got however games left,” he said. “We haven’t done anything so I don’t feel any weight off my shoulders until we accomplish our goal of winning a championship this year.”

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