When the Mets first entered spring training, they looked to have a good starting rotation on paper. While a rotation of Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, Johan Santana, Shaun Marcum, and Dillon Gee was never going to set the world on fire, it would at the very least not manage to completely embarrass the team. Of course, this was a rotation that was as sturdy as fine China on a race car. If any of those pieces managed to break, bad things would happen. They broke, which forced the Mets to rely on their "starting pitching depth," one of their biggest weaknesses as an organization. So far, the Mets' starting rotation has been a train wreck outside of Harvey and Niese, and it failed them yet again today. Starter Jeremy Hefner and fifth starter/swingman/arsonist Aaron Laffey combined to give up six of the seven runs as the Mets fell to the Nationals, 7-6.
On paper, the match-up didn't look good for the Mets. Hefner was going up against Gio Gonzalez, who was excellent in 2012. The first inning went innocently enough for Hefner, though. He pitched a scoreless inning, recording two strikeouts while only allowing a walk to Bryce Harper. Gonzalez matched him with a scoreless frame. The stalemate would dissipate on Hefner's first pitch of the second inning, as Ian Desmond sent a laser into the left field seats, giving the Nationals a 1-0 lead. He would get into further trouble in the inning as he gave up a double to Danny Espinosa, but Hefner managed to escape the rest of the inning unscathed. The Mets' offense continued to look feeble against Gonzalez in the bottom of the second, and in the third, things got even worse for Hefner. After Denard Span flew out to begin the inning, Jayson Werth doubled down the line and then Bryce Harper launched a Hefner fastball into the Mets' bullpen, giving the Nats a 3-0 lead. The score remained the same until the bottom of the fourth.
David Wright led off the inning with a triple and then John Buck drew a walk. However, Gonzalez manged to retire the next two batters, with Wright getting thrown out at the plate on a force out. After that, Gonzalez imploded. Lucas Duda drew a walk, and then Collin Cowgill got the Mets on the board with a two-run single over the outstretched glove of Ian Desmond. Pinch-hitting for Hefner, Ruben Tejada drew a walk and then Clutchy McClutch himself, Justin Turner, gave the Mets a lead with a two-run single to left. Daniel Murphy would tack on a run and at the end of four it was 5-3 Mets.
The Mets' lead would not stand. For some reason, Terry Collins thought he could get effective relief work from Aaron Laffey. At first, it looked like he might. Laffey retired the first two batters in the fifth before walking Werth. Harper followed with an opposite field double. He managed to get Adam LaRoche to a 1-2 count, but his next pitch would cost him. LaRoche sent a hanging Laffey cutter the other way into the Party City deck, giving the Nationals a 6-5 lead. Brandon Lyon struck out Ian Desmond to end the inning but the damage was done.
Things would stay quiet until the bottom of the seventh. Murphy would bang out an infield hit with one out, and after Wright flew out, NL meaningless stat leader John Buck hit a double down the line, which scored Murphy from first. After seven, the score was knotted at six. That was until Harper stepped up in the eighth inning. Harper took Josh Edgin's first pitch of the inning, a 93 MPH fastball, and clobbered it, giving the Nationals a 7-6 lead. The ball landed on the left side of the Shea Bridge, one of the longest home runs in the short history of Citi Field. The Nationals' bullpen took care of the rest. The Mets staged a minor threat in the ninth against Rafael Soriano as Wright drew a walk with two outs. However, Buck grounded out to short on the first pitch he saw, ending the affair.
The series with the Nationals will conclude tomorrow as Dillon Gee draws the start against Jordan Zimmermann. First pitch is at 1:10 PM. The game will be televised on PIX11.
SB Nation Coverage
* Amazin' Avenue Gamethread
* Federal Baseball Gamethread
Win Probability Added
Big winners: Bryce Harper 48.6%, Adam LaRoche 34.1%
Big losers: Gio Gonzalez -44.2%, Aaron Laffey -38.8%
Teh aw3s0mest play: John Buck's RBI double in the 7th
Teh sux0rest play: Adam LaRoche's three run homer in the fifth
Total pitcher WPA: -63.8%
Total batter WPA: 13.8%
GWRBI!: Bryce Harper