WASHINGTON — The innings-eater in the Mets rotation these days was possibly the biggest question mark among the team’s starting pitchers when this season began.
Carlos Carrasco is pounding strike zones and working deep into games, lengthening a rotation that has more than survived Jacob deGrom’s stay on the injured list.
On Tuesday, the veteran right-hander worked into the seventh inning or beyond for a third time in four starts to lead the Mets’ 4-2 victory over the Nationals.
Carrasco, who didn’t debut for the Mets until after the All-Star break last season after tearing his right hamstring in spring training — he also underwent offseason surgery to remove a bone fragment from his elbow — entered as the only MLB pitcher to throw more than seven innings in multiple starts this season. On this night he lasted 6 ²/₃ innings and allowed two earned runs on seven hits with five strikeouts.
“It’s completely different this year than last year,” Carrasco said. “This year I feel free. I even surprised myself today, a couple of 95 [mph], ‘OK, I am getting back.’ I just want to continue to work and go every five days and do my job.”
The Mets (21-10) won for the third time in four games on a night they didn’t awaken offensively until the sixth inning. Drew Smith, Joely Rodriguez and Edwin Diaz handled the rest behind Carrasco, combining on 2 ¹/₃ scoreless innings in relief.
Carrasco pitched eight shutout innings against the Braves in his previous start. Last month he pitched 7 ²/₃ innings against the Giants and allowed two earned runs. His respectable 3.19 ERA includes a clunker in St. Louis in which he surrendered eight earned runs over 3 ²/₃ innings.
“We pitched well and it starts with Carrasco,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Carlos was good again and we got the job done out of the pen.”
The Mets waited to get into the Nationals bullpen and struck for three runs in the sixth against Carl Edwards Jr. The inning’s biggest hit came from Jeff McNeil, who stroked a two-run double off first baseman Josh Bell’s glove. James McCann followed with a sacrifice fly that put the Mets ahead. During the inning, TV cameras picked up a rodent on the field — perhaps a rally rat?
That description might be fitting given that McNeil was in the middle of the rally. Last May at Citi Field he and Francisco Lindor scuffled in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse and later dismissed the fight as an argument over whether they had just seen a rat or raccoon on the loose.
On this night there wasn’t any doubt.
“That was a rat,” McNeil said.
Carrasco went back to the mound for the bottom of the inning and got Bell to hit into a double play after Juan Soto singled. Nelson Cruz was then retired.
“The mentality is just strike them out or get out of the inning with a zero,” Carrasco said. “[Our] guys worked so hard to get them three runs and I always work to keep it that way.”
Maikel Franco stroked an RBI double in the fourth that put Carrasco in a 1-0 hole, but the Mets avoided further harm in the inning as McNeil’s relay throw to the plate nailed Yadiel Hernandez attempting to score behind Bell. The throw beat Hernandez by so much that he didn’t even slide.
The defensive gem started with Brandon Nimmo hustling into right-center to grab Franco’s shot before it could roll to the fence. Nimmo spun and hit McNeil with a dart. McNeil then unloaded to the plate.
“I knew they were probably going to be sending him, I am pretty familiar with DiSar and how he coaches third,” McNeil said, referring to Nationals third-base coach Gary DiSarcina, who held the same job with the Mets from 2019-21. “I knew he was going to be aggressive and probably send him. Nimmy threw me a strike and I happened to throw a strike home and got him by a lot.”
Carrasco hung a full-count slider in the fifth that Riley Adams crushed into the left-field seats. The solo homer gave the Nationals a 2-0 lead.
Patrick Corbin frustrated the Mets with five shutout innings in which he surrendered three hits and four walks.
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