WASHINGTON — Tyler Megill’s seventh starting foul of the year was enough to be flushed down the toilet.
Megill, who had given up just nine of his previous six games, put his team into an early hole that spelled disaster in Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to the Nationals at Nationals Park.
The Mets’ Opening Day starter didn’t have him in command, messing things up early as his first hitter of the night. Juan Soto, one of the best hitters in the game, and without a single turnover, beat Megill’s 97-mph fastball that didn’t zip and was in the middle of the zone flatten. Soto’s two-run homer was just the beginning.
Megill allowed 11 of his top 14 hitters to reach the bases, including a three-run homer against Nelson Cruz and also knocked out Josh Bell. Manager Buck Showalter saw enough in the second inning. Megill played the shortest game at 1.1 innings, his worst start to the season so far.
In some ways, Megill should start like Wednesday. He has been confident and composed since opening day, when he replaced Jacob de Grom and dominated the mounds in the same national park. Megill went on to win over tougher opponents like the Phillies, Giants and Warriors in the next five starts.
Megill came into Wednesday with a 2.43 ERA. He left the field with a 4.41 ERA after being charged with 8 runs on 54 pitches with 8 hits and 1 strikeout.
Pretty much the only silver lining the Mets can recognize from Wednesday’s loss is what Mets manager Buck Showalter pointed out earlier on the road trip: It’s easier to save the bullpen in a defeat than in a victory.
After Megill left in the second inning, Showalter used just two pitchers to cover the remaining distance. Trevor Williams ate 3.2 innings, gave up just two hits, walked one inning in that span and straddled 51 pitches — three fewer than Megill. Williams gave the ball to Stephano Gocek to start the sixth inning. Nogosek copied Williams and stopped the Nationals from scoring in his season debut.
In hindsight, the bullpen’s strong showing created the perfect opportunity for the Mets’ offense to undercut the Nationals. But the Mets batsman, after attacking Nationals right-hander Aaron Sanchez for a 3-pointer in the first inning, was lukewarm to him in the next few innings. Sanchez retired 11 times in a row until Pete Alonso’s comeback took him out of the starting lineup with an apparent wrist injury.
A snag appeared in the middle of the Mets’ lineup Wednesday, as Showalter and other team officials decided to line up struggling Dominic Smith and 1-for-21 Escobar back-to-back. Predictably, this structure didn’t lead to a positive outcome for most of the game. It wasn’t until the ninth inning that Escobar and McNeil had back-to-back hits, but the game didn’t take place in Philadelphia, where the Mets went on a thrilling seven-game winning streak. Rally rats were nowhere to be found in the nation’s capital on Wednesday.