Nationals end road trip with a thud in 9-4 defeat (updated)

The Nationals ended a nine-game road trip with a thud Sunday afternoon, managing just one hit against a rookie pitcher and falling 9-4 to the New York Mets to finish their 11-day trek with a 3-6 record.

Nationals starter Erick Fedde pitched in trouble for much of the afternoon, but much of the traffic was of his own making. He hit two batters, yielded a home run and balked home a run.

Josh Bell homered twice and Juan Soto also went deep for the Nationals, Bell taking the team lead in the category 23-22. But Mets pitching limited the Nats to just three hits - all homers - to claim the series victory at Citi Field.

“We took a lot of fastballs today, (which was) uncharacteristic,” manager Davey Martinez said in his postgame Zoom session with reporters. “We got behind in some counts. ... Soto, home run. Bell had a good day at the plate with two homers, but the rest of the guys just couldn’t get nothing going.”

Alcides Escobar went 0-for-4, snapping his hitting streak at 10 games.

Fedde surrendered a 1-0 lead in the Mets first, hurt by a passed ball that moved two runners into scoring position and a balk. With one out, Brandon Nimmo walked, but was erased on a fielder’s choice grounder by Francisco Lindor. Pete Alonso singled and runners moved up when Tres Barrera couldn’t glove Fedde’s pitch to Michael Conforto. From third base, Lindor bluffed a dash home as Fedde started his windup, and Fedde balked him home.

Fedde again relied heavily on his curveball - thrown with a new grip that proved very successful in his last start - but the righty’s inability to command his fastball weighed heavily on a challenging afternoon.

“It wasn’t as sharp as it was the other day,” Martinez said of Fedde’s curve. “He threw some good ones, but it wasn’t consistent.”

But with his fastball command spotty, Fedde didn’t have much confidence in that pitch.

“The biggest thing was just my fastball command,” he said. ” ... I don’t know the percentages or anything, but I think we got away from my fastball because it was kinda all over the place. I think that led to guys seeing my breaking stuff a little too much. There were still some times with guys on base that I made some good pitches.”

Thumbnail image for Soto-HR-Swing-Gray-Mets-Sidebar.jpgThe Nats didn’t get a hit off rookie right-hander Tylor Megill until the fourth, and they made the first one count. Soto drew a one-out walk and Bell crushed Megill’s first pitch over the wall in center for a 2-1 lead.

“I feel good, I feel like I’m staying behind balls and not jumping forward making early contact,” Bell said. “Just being able to get balls in the air to center field and left-center, that’s definitely a good sign.”

The lead evaporated in the bottom of the inning. Alonso led off with a single and was then out at second on Conforto’s fielder’s choice grounder to first. Conforto scored on a 444-foot homer by Javier Báez into the second deck. Báez jumped all over a 1-0 curveball that leaked over the middle of the plate.

“I know (Fedde) was trying to go down with the curveball, (but) he just left it up,” Martinez said. “If you leave something up like that - I know he’s a good hitter, I know he swings and misses a lot - but he’s still a dangerous hitter.”

Martinez wants Fedde to be comfortable using the new-grip curveball, but doesn’t want him to become too enamored of the pitch.

“We’ll have a conversation with him these next couple of days,” the manager said. “Once again to talk to him about who he is and what he does well. The curveball can be effective, but he can’t just lean on his curveball. He’s gotta mix in his fastball.”

The Mets went up 4-2 in the fifth, with Fedde wiggling out of a jam that could have ended significantly worse. Jonathan Villar led off with a triple off the wall in center that eluded a leaping Lane Thomas before Nimmo was grazed on his front knee by a pitch. Lindor hit into a 1-3 putout that advanced Nimmo to second. Alonso singled home Villar, putting runners on the corners, but Fedde fanned Conforto and Báez swinging to escape further damage.

Megill was done after five innings, having allowed two runs on one hit with three walks and five strikeouts. Aaron Loup took over in the sixth and yielded a leadoff homer to Soto to get the Nationals within 4-3. Soto hit a 2-2 sinker for his 22nd homer of the season.

The one-run margin lasted only until the bottom half. Kevin Pillar singled to lead off, stole second and scored on pinch-hitter Domenic Smith’s RBI single to center, which chased Fedde. Before that hit, Smith was 1-for-15 off the right-hander.

Kyle McGowin replaced Fedde and Villar greeted him rudely, crushing a slider over the wall in left for a two-run homer and a 7-3 lead. Fedde allowed six runs (five earned) on eight hits with a walk and five strikeouts.

Bell hit his second homer of the afternoon with two down in the eighth, a solo shot that made it 7-4. But Sam Clay allowed Lindor’s two-run double in the eighth for a 9-4 Mets lead.

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