NEW YORK - The Nationals got just enough from each facet of their club to eke out a 5-4 series-opening victory against the Mets at Citi Field on Thursday.
The Nats improved to 47-46, keeping pace with the Phillies, but are still 5 1/2 games back in the National League East. The Braves had the night off.
“I think that’s a huge key, especially coming on the road,” Rendon said of the win after Wednesday’s 2-0 loss at Pittsburgh. “Neither one of us have been playing good all season - or up to our ability - but it’s definitely a battle every time we come here, so it’s good to get one out of the way.”
Rendon set the tone with a two-run homer in the first inning off Mets left-hander Stephen Matz. He followed that blast up with another laser to left field in the third inning, giving the Nats a 3-1 lead.
Rendon now has 10 career homers at Citi Field. It was the fourth multi-homer performance in his career.
Harper launched a two-run homer of his own in the seventh off of Mets reliever Jerry Blevins that boosted the Nats advantage to 5-2.
“Just trying to get a pitch over the plate and not miss it,” Harper said. “That’s pretty much it. I’m just trying to have a good at-bat in that situation. I was able to get a pitch out over the plate and do some damage.”
Scherzer allowed two homers, but never gave the Mets a sustained rally. He threw 73 of 101 pitches for strikes, scattered three other hits, walked two and struck out five for the win. He said not getting to double digits in strikeouts for the fifth consecutive start is not bothering him as long as his club wins. Scherzer said the Mets’ approach against him prevented the usual swings and misses he normally feeds off of in his starts.
“They got all the video in the world. They see what I’m doing,” Scherzer said. “I’m in those kill counts and I’m executing pitches out of zone and there’s contact, I win. As long as I get swings out of the zone when I’m executing pitches out of the zone. I can’t make them swing and miss at everything.
“They’re anticipating certain pitches. You just have to focus on what you are doing right. When I’m executing pitches the way I want to in those kill counts you take it and move on. As long as I’m getting popups and weak contact, I don’t live and die by strikeouts. I can make pitches and get guys out.
“The pitches that could have been strikeouts, they’re executed, so I’m not worried about it.”
Kelvin Herrera came on in the eighth and had trouble. The Mets hit him hard with a one-out solo homer by Asdrúbal Cabrera followed by a pair of walks. But he then induced a weak popup to first base and struck out Matt den Dekker to end the threat.
“He’s throwing the ball good, I think it’s more location issues,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez.
“He’s having a tough time getting the ball where he wants it to go. Fastball, so I think that’s why he threw so many off-speed stuff. Something we probably need to talk about tomorrow and just get him to relax and get back in form. His fastball is 96, 97 mph. He’s throwing the fastball well, just location has been a little off.”
In the ninth, Ryan Madson got a 6-3 double play to end the game and record his fourth save.
The Nats are still without closer Sean Doolittle, who will most likely return after the All-Star break from left toe inflammation. Despite the up-and-down eighth for Herrera, Scherzer said having a bullpen like the Nats do now can be a huge advantage as they attempt to climb back to the top of the division.
“Trading for Herrera, that was a huge trade,” said Scherzer. “We got such a deep bullpen now that, as a starter, you feel like if you go out there and do your job and can hand the ball off to those guys. There’s a number of those guys back there that you feel confident that they can get the job done.
“Even with Doolittle out, it’s going to be a handful of days, he should be back after the break. But any of those guys, you know that they can get the job done. They’re quality, very good relievers. Makes for a winning recipe.”