Rookie right-hander Joe Ross had made spot starts for the Nationals before, but this was no ordinary outing. The 22-year-old starter came up to pitch in Stephen Strasburg's place on Tuesday and faced the New York Mets, the second place team in the NL East. His counterpart? Reigning NL Rookie of the Year and 2015 All-Star Jacob deGrom.
Ross, as he has been in each of his four MLB starts so far, was excellent. His supporting cast, however, was not.
Ross threw 6 1/3 innings with two earned runs on four hits and no walks. He started the game by setting down the first nine batters he faced and left with a 2.70 ERA on the season. That is with 27 strikeouts and just two walks along the way in his 26 2/3 total innings.
Defensive mistakes and an unfortunate showing by the Nats' bullpen told the story of this one, a 7-2 loss to the Mets, who are within striking distance at just two games back out of first. The Nats committed two errors, both that led to runs. They also saw catcher Wilson Ramos botch a throw attempt as Curtis Granderson stole second base in the fourth inning, a play that featured Ramos failing to get the ball out of his glove. Granderson would end up scoring New York's first run.
The game started well and ended ugly for the Nats. But they can take solace from yet another impressive showing from Ross.
"It's definitely an honor, being the guy for right now that they can call up and trust to try and win a game in such a big situation against the Mets," Ross said. "I didn't really know what to expect coming into this season, my first year with the Nationals. It was kind of whatever they had planned for me, go from there. I've been lucky to have a really good opportunity making four starts up here."
The first error came in the top of the seventh after Ross allowed a leadoff single to Wilmer Flores. Kirk Nieuwenhuis smacked a high-bouncing grounder straight down the chalk line towards first base. Clint Robinson charged and tried to backhand the ball, but it got past him and slipped into right field. That put two runners in scoring position and both would score on an Eric Campbell single allowed by Aaron Barrett, who replaced Ross.
"The ball down the line to first, Clint decided to come get it and couldn't get it," Matt Williams said. "It's not reviewable. I went out and asked the home plate umpire what he had, he said that he's fighting Wilson to get a good look at it. The first base umpire's got that call. He made the fair call. It's not a reviewable play for us, so we can't check it."
Barrett said afterwards he thought Campbell just put a good swing on a well-executed pitch.
"Looking back on it, it was the right pitch location down and away. Tip your cap," Barrett said. "He flipped it over Danny [Espionsa's] head. It is what it is. You’re gonna beat sometimes. I wanted him to beat me with my best pitch."
Campbell's single gave the Mets a 3-2 lead and they added to that margin in the ninth against Tanner Roark. Roark allowed a leadoff single to Kevin Plawecki, who advanced all the way to third on a throwing error by left fielder Matt den Dekker. His throw to second bounced past Espinosa and all the way into foul territory.
Roark then unraveled by walking Michael Cuddyer and allowing singles to Granderson and Ruben Tejada. He gave up three runs and was charged with a fourth once rookie Abel de los Santos allowed another RBI on a groundout.
"The ball was up. I don't think he was throwing it where he wanted to. A single is one thing, but we get a guy on third base there and he's under a little bit of pressure. He just couldn't throw it where he wanted to," Williams said of Roark.
"[It's] location. I think I’m trying to do too much right now. I feel like I’m underperforming and I need to pick it up," Roark added. "I just need to do better, pitch better. It’s my job to get outs. Right now, it’s hard to come by. I have to work harder and get better."
The Nats and Mets will continue their series on Wednesday in a rubber game that will pit Jordan Zimmermann (8-5, 3.27) against Noah Syndergaard (4-5, 3.05).