Irvin strong in first start, Gallo struggles in return

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – In order for Jake Irvin to bounce back from his rough first two spring training outings, the big right-hander thought he just needed to get back into his starting routine.

Irvin’s first two appearances this spring came out of the bullpen after MacKenzie Gore started each game. While he can do his best to try to mimic his process and timing as if he were the starter, it’s still not the same coming in after the game has already begun

The results supported that theory, as he was charged with seven hits and eight runs (seven earned) in just 3 ⅔ innings.

This time around, Irvin got the ball to start the Grapefruit League game while Gore started a minor league game this afternoon back in West Palm Beach.

These results are more like what Irvin is accustomed to: four scoreless innings of two-hit ball with five strikeouts albeit in a 3-1 loss to the Mets at Clover Park.

“Good to get in that routine again,” Irvin said after the game. “The goal is just kind of be in attack mode, be on the offensive all night and I think we did a good job. (Catcher Drew Millas) and I had a really good game plan and executed really well.”

Irvin was really efficient with his pitches, needing only 51 to complete the four frames and throwing 37 of them for strikes.

“Jake was good. He was very good, very efficient,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Fastball was live. He threw the ball over the plate for the most part. The cutter was good. He didn't throw any changeups today. He just wanted to work on his cutter. His fastball was really good. His curveball he could drop for strikes. And that's really good. A good outing.”

The two hits were both leadoff singles by Brandon Nimmo in the first and fourth innings. But Irvin came back both times to strike out Francisco Lindor (the first with his new cutter and the second on a curveball) and get a double play to end the inning. In the first, he got Starling Marte to ground into a 4-6-3 double play. In the second, he got Marte to fly out to left fielder Jacob Young, who threw a dart to first base to double up Nimmo after he had already rounded second.

“The cutter is going to be a weapon,” Irvin said. “Really excited about that. Threw it really well today and built a lot of confidence throwing it to those hitters. I know that that's something that we want to emphasize in the future and it was good to use it a lot today.”

His other strikeouts came on a curveball to Brett Baty and 97-mph fastball past Francisco Alvarez in the second, and a 95-mph fastball to Mark Vientos in the third.

Irvin’s night ended with him facing the minimum through his four innings. He threw eight cutters averaging 90 mph. He got five swings at the offering: two whiffs, two foul balls and one put in play on Nimmo’s fourth-inning single.

“It's different because you work on it all offseason,” he said of his new pitch. “You're throwing it to a catcher, you can feel different shapes. And it's cool, it's good. But it's totally different when a hitter steps in the box and you're throwing it in a game atmosphere. So I think just getting confidence with it knowing that it's something that can help the rest of the arsenal is really cool.”

But most of all, it was really cool for Irvin to get back in his starting routine.

“The routine. Probably the routine,” Irvin said when asked what he missed most about starting a game. “It's just nice to know it's your day. Get up, follow that same schedule and just kind of attack the day with the confidence that you're going to follow that routine.”

* Joey Gallo’s night was not as impressive.

In his return to the lineup following tightness in his left quadriceps muscle, the veteran slugger struck out twice against Mets starter Jose Quintana and flew out to right to finish his outing.

The Nationals did consider removing Gallo from the starting lineup to avoid the left-on-left matchup after Quintana was announced as the Mets starter when his scheduled start against the Astros in West Palm yesterday was rained out. But they decided it would be better for him to get the at-bats.

Gallo was called out looking at a sinker in the second and missed an outside slurve in the third.

Facing right-hander Jorge López in the sixth, he just missed a low-and-inside slider to fly out.

“Just trying to get back,” Martinez said. “I'm glad he took some swings. As I always say, in order for you to get your timing, you got to swing. You know, you can't just know. But yeah, I was first playing in it. But it was good. He had some really good hacks his last at-bat, which was really nice. So we got him out of there and we'll get him back in there. Just to see him back on the field was great.”

* Francisco Alvarez had a night for the Mets. He went a perfect 3-for-3 throwing out potential basestealers and hit a two-run home run off Richard Bleier to give New York a 2-1 lead in the fifth.

Lane Thomas, Ildemaro Vargas and Carter Kieboom were his victims on the basepaths trying to steal second.

The Nationals had only been caught stealing twice in Grapefruit League games coming into tonight’s game while being fourth in the majors with 18 stolen bases in spring training.

* Brady House had a pinch-hit opposite-field single in the top of the ninth. He slapped a 95-mph inside slider to right field to now be 4-for-15 (.267) in spring training.

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