Irvin can’t replicate mastery of Mets, bats remain quiet against Quintana in loss (updated)

NEW YORK – What Jake Irvin did against the Mets on Independence Day was nothing short of special. In what turned out to be a career highlight, the right-hander struck out eight over eight shutout innings of one-hit, one-walk ball on 99 pitches.

The task for the 27-year-old tonight: A similar performance to provide the Nationals bullpen some much-needed rest and give his team a chance to win for just the second time since that spectacular outing.

Eight scoreless innings is a lot to ask anyone, nonetheless a young pitcher facing the same team in back-to-back starts. And while Irvin was able to provide the Nats some length, he and the bats weren’t able to overcome a rough second inning and another dominant start by Jose Quintana in a 7-4 loss to the Mets in front of an announced crowd of 31,243 at Citi Field.

“He wasn't as sharp," said manager Davey Martinez. "His breaking ball wasn't as sharp. He fell behind a couple of hitters and made some mistakes just by location. But all in all, he gave us some innings that we needed. So it's just one of those days.”

Irvin only gave up one hit and one walk over eight innings last week against the Mets. He matched that in the first three batters he faced tonight, including a two-bag error on a pickoff attempt to move leadoff man Francisco Lindor to third base. But he got out of the first with a comebacker and strikeout, needing 21 pitches to complete the frame.

He wasn’t as fortunate in the second.

With two outs, Irvin walked Jeff McNeil, gave up back-to-back singles to Harrison Bader and Francisco Lindor, and then surrendered a three-run homer to Brandon Nimmo, giving the Mets a 4-0 lead.

“I'd say the biggest thing is probably getting ahead of guys last week, I did a really good job of that," Irvin said of the difference between these two starts. "And this week, falling behind guys, putting myself in bad counts and giving those guys a better opportunity to hit.”

Irvin settled in over the next three innings and kept the Mets off the scoreboard despite scattering three hits, including two in the fifth. But the issue with two outs resurfaced in the sixth.

Starting the frame at 80 pitches, the Nats were hoping Irvin could at least finish seven innings. He got the first two outs on a scant six pitches, but allowed Bader to single on the first pitch and Lindor to hit a two-run homer on the fourth pitch for a 6-0 lead.

“Incredibly," Irvin said of how frustrating it was to issue walks with two outs. "It's my job to keep guys off the basepaths and walking guys with two outs is unacceptable.”

“He hasn't done that," Martinez said. "Like I said, he has been attacking the zone, getting ahead. Today he just wasn't as sharp as he was.”

In the end, Irvin finished six innings with nine hits, six runs, two walks, two strikeouts and two homers on 94 pitches, 64 strikes. His ERA is still a very respectable 3.13 even after struggling against this Mets lineup while facing them for the second straight start. The six runs were the most he’s allowed in a single outing since April, also while facing the Dodgers for the second straight time.

“Trying to keep us in it while I could," he said. "Unfortunate the way it ended in the sixth, but I thought after the Nimmo homer, things settled down a little bit.”

Quintana, on the other hand, had no such issues against the Nats lineup he too was facing for the second time in back-to-back starts.

The veteran left-hander went toe-to-toe with Irvin last week by completing seven shutout innings on four hits, three walks, one strikeout and one hit-batter on 95 pitches. The Nats didn’t pull off the 1-0 win until Jesse Winker’s pinch-hit homer in the eighth.

Quintana was very efficient again tonight, completing another seven shutout innings on 103 pitches. But this time the Nats were even more perplexed by him. They only managed one hit (a Luis García Jr. single in the third in which he advanced to second on a fielding error by Bader in center field), one hit-batter (CJ Abrams three batters later) and one walk (Lane Thomas immediately after). That bases-loaded opportunity was the Nats’ only real chance against Quintana on the night, which ended with a James Wood scorcher up the middle at 108.3 mph off his bat that was picked by Lindor for the final out.

“His breaking ball was effective today. It really was," Martinez said. "And he kept his fastball located really well. So he's working ahead. We tried to wait some pitches out, we couldn't and he was ahead. We just tried to swing. But we had him on the ropes in one and James hit the ball really hard to the shortstop. He hit the ball hard three times today. The last ball he smoked, so he's swinging the bat well.”

That third inning also happened to be the only inning the Nats put any runners on base against Quintana, who otherwise put up perfect innings in six of the seven he completed.

“He was really good tonight," Keibert Ruiz said. "He was making pitches. He wasn't missing in the middle. He was just attacking the bottom of the zone. His breaking ball was good when he got behind in the count. He did really good tonight.”

It wasn’t until Quintana finally left the game and Ildemaro Vargas hit a pinch-hit two-run homer off struggling reliever Adam Ottavino in the eighth that the Nats got on the board.

Vargas hit a cutter left-right over the plate 388 feet to right field for his first home run of the season and first since Aug. 11 of last year. It was the Nats’ first runs since the sixth inning of Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals.

The eighth continued when Abrams was hit by another pitch and Wood singled with the ball coming 109.1 mph off the bat. But no more runs would cross the plate.

For good measure, the Mets scored one more run in the bottom of the eighth off Jordan Weems, who had completed a perfect seventh.

The Nats continued to fight in the ninth with Ruiz hitting a two-run homer off former batterymate Reed Garrett for his second homer in his last three games. And their late-inning rallies made the Mets use four relievers, including closer Edwin Díaz, in a game they led 6-0 going into the eighth. Jacob Young would also score in the ninth with a walk, advancing to second on defensive indifference and scoring from there on a wild pitch by Díaz.

But it was too little too late with the lack of damage done against Quintana.

“We were getting close," Martinez said. "Our at-bats got better. We started driving the ball. A couple of big home runs there. Look, what I can tell you about this group is they don't quit. They're gonna keep battling. They're gonna keep fighting. That's their character. That's their mentality. So we went from really a dismal offensive day to putting up five runs. So hopefully we come up tomorrow early and score some runs early.”

The offensive production arriving too late continues to haunt the Nats. And facing the same team twice in a row continues to haunt Irvin.

“To finish it like we did," said Martinez, "hey, let's come back tomorrow and start like that. That's the key.”

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