NEW YORK - Joe Ross pitched fairly well, but Jacob deGrom was better, shutting down the potent Nats offense in a 5-1 series finale Mets victory.
deGrom went eight innings, allowing only one unearned run in the first at-bat, scattering three singles with two walks and six strikeouts.
The Nationals mustered only four hits against Mets pitching on Sunday. Daniel Murphy’s double in the ninth was their lone extra base knock. He now has reached base safely in all 29 games against his former club.
Only a Ryan Zimmerman sacrifice fly to right field in the opening frame kept it from being a shutout. A fielding error by Wilmer Flores allowed Brian Goodwin to reach base. After a Bryce Harper single, Zimmerman’s fly ball put the Nats in the lead 1-0.
But the Mets ignited their offense in the most unlikely of places: Their starting pitcher deGrom launched his first career homer off of Ross to tie the game at 1-1 in the third.
In the fourth, the Mets strung together four hits, highlighted by a play at the plate on Travis d’Arnaud’s single to center field. Lucas Duda came all the way home and was safe when Matt Wieters had the ball roll away from his glove. The Mets advantage was 2-1, their first lead in the four-game set.
Duda had reached base on a single to begin the frame when Murphy lost the pop-up in the sun.
“I felt good,” Ross said. “The one inning was kind of tough. I think the sun ball, the fact that it was the first hitter kind of sucks. But overall, I felt pretty good. I felt like I executed pitches pretty well, but just didn’t go my way today.”
Manager Dusty Baker thought Ross “threw the ball well.” But the ball getting lost in the sun was the break the Mets needed to get going.
“That one sun ball, you know what I mean?” Baker asked. “I was hoping one of our outfielders would have been kind of close enough to help Murph on that ball. But you could tell he was in trouble and that led to two runs and Joe, in reality, he should have only given up two runs. He pitched well enough to win.”
Michael Conforto added two RBI singles and Curtis Granderson notched a run-scoring base hit off of Matt Grace to complete the scoring.
Ross (3-3) finished six innings, allowing four runs, of which only two were earned. He walked one and struck out four.
Baker said one key positive for Ross was his ability to get better velocity drop between his fastball and his changeup.
“He had pretty good command,” Baker said. “His changeup’s getting better because the speed differential is a lot better. He’s been working on that to get left-handers out, and right-handers, but he threw some quality changeups. Because usually his speed-differential is only four or five miles an hour, but it was like 11 to 12 miles an hour, which is really, really good and showed a lot of progress.”
Wieters said he thinks Ross went to the changeup 10 or 15 times out of his 103 pitches.
“We got there, we threw two to three early, but I feel like once we got to the third and fourth inning, we started throwing quite a few,” Wieters recalled.
Even in the loss, Wieters believes Ross can build off the confidence he gained in his changeup.
“It’s huge because when he can slow it down to the speed that he had today, the hitters have to make a conscious effort to be able to hit it as opposed to accidently hitting it because it’s too close to the fastball,” Wieters noted. “So it actually gives him another pitch when it has that eight, nine mph difference that it had today. It was good to see that and something that we look forward to moving forward with that and giving him another pitch to use against lefties and righties.”
Ross said he makes a conscious effort to make sure the hitter cannot pick up that he went to the changeup.
“That’s the thing. You don’t want to slow down the arm speed too much because they kind of pick up on that,” Ross said. “But just kind of messing around with the grip a little bit, moving the thumb around on the side of the ball. Might change from game to game. But felt good today. Hopefully I can continue with that and make more improvements with it.”
The Nats had opportunities thanks to Trea Turner’s club-record four stolen bases, two of them in the third inning. But deGrom (6-3) never let the Nats get that clutch hit to plate Turner when he was in scoring position. The Nats were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. The Mets were 4-for-11.
“He was mixing well,” Turner said, who went 1-for-3 with a walk. “I thought he was throwing a lot more off speed than normal. Fastball I think is his best pitch and usually uses it a lot and today he mixed it up and did a good job of keeping us off balance.”
Despite the loss, the club is still 3-1 on this road trip. Heading to Miami for three games, the Nats have now won 11 of their last 14 games away from South Capitol Street. Turner said winning the first three games of the series takes the pressure off on Sunday.
“It’s huge, especially doing it early,” Turner said. “If you lose the first one, win the next three, it’s a little bit tougher. I feel like you have to fight your way back. To win three and have that comfortable feeling like we played well already was good. Nice to be in that situation. We wish we could have gotten this one obviously, but taking three of four from them is huge.”