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Dominic Smith fans in key spot in Mets loss to Nationals, and could be demoted soon

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NEW YORK -- Mets manager Mickey Callaway says the team's goal with first baseman Dom Smith is to further the youngster's development.

The challenge, though, is finding the right spot for that development.

The manager indicated before the 5-4 loss to the Nationals at Citi Field that the Mets are considering optioning Smith to the minors while he struggles offensively in limited playing time, and there appears to be momentum toward a demotion.Smith struck out as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning, and has started only 15 of the Mets' last 29 games.

Mets lefty Steven Matz (4-7), who is unlikely to be traded, allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings while being outdueled by Max Scherzer.

“He’s been struggling at the plate. He looks indecisive at times," Callaway said of Smith. "We just need to constantly evaluate where he can get the best development.”

Still the future?
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson referred to Smith as the team's future first baseman not that long ago, yet Smith can't even work his way into the lineup despite the wins and losses not mattering. He's started just 10 games at first base since being promoted on June 12, and has also made six starts in left field, his secondary position.

The Mets could shift Wilmer Flores to third base and play Smith at first base on a regular basis, but there are reservations about Flores' defense at the hot corner. The Mets also are willing to trade Flores, per a source, and it's best to enhance his value. 

Smith also hasn't helped his cause by going 4-for-41 in his last 16 games with 16 strikeouts. He somehow has just one RBI in 27 games.

"I know I’m capable of doing more offensively, playing, not playing, stuff like that," Smith said. "You got to figure out ways to keep having quality at-bats and grinding them out and constantly put those together one day at a time. That’s how stuff will get rolling.”

Smith said he feels "OK" at the plate but acknowledged his lack of consistent at-bats.

"You know if you have a bad game and you’re not in the lineup the next day you try to press more or do more," Smith said. "It just kind of weighs on your mentally for sure. You want to play and want to do well and just worry about other things.”

Will a demotion work?
Demoting Smith makes theory since normally he would receive regular playing time, but the Mets recently promoted prospect Peter Alonso.

Alonso's ascension gives the team an alternative in case Smith does not develop as the team hopes, but Alonso entered Thursday with a .698 OPS with Class AAA Las Vegas.

Smith is a lefty and Alonso is a righty so a platoon could work in theory, but that would not be ideal for their development. Smith could always play in the outfield to allow for both to get their bats into the lineup, but his future is not as an outfielder.

A source indicated Smith could be optioned after the All-Star break.

While Smith knows of Alonso, he isn't worrying about what Alonso's rise in the organization means for his future. He's just focused on winning over the coaches.

"You try to impress them every day and impress them with the work you put in and your play," Smith said. "I try to play hard and do the right things and that’s all I can control.”

Tough call
Smith struck out as a pinch hitter in a critical spot Thursday while representing the tying run in the seventh inning with the Mets trailing, 5-3. He heard some boos afterward.

While Matz pitched well in the loss, two Anthony Rendon homers foiled his night.

Matz allowed a two-run homer in the first and a solo shot in the third, and a source said the Mets are not receiving trade inquiries on the lefty. He's expected to stay.

The lefty finished the first half with a 3.38 ERA.

"I felt pretty good out there," Matz said. "Made some bad pitches, mainly on Rendon. I thought they had a pretty good approach on me. It was a scuffle."

Lefty reliever Jerry Blevins, whose struggles against lefties have plummeted his value, allowed a crushing two-run homer to Bryce Harper in the seventh that put the Mets in a 5-2 hole. Moving Blevins will be challenging due to his ineffectiveness and salary.

The Mets (37-54) stranded the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth, and Amed Rosario hit into a game-ending double play with the tying run at first.

"I think I'm trying to be too fine," Blevins said. "Every pitch I'm trying to make it perfect and it's clearly not happening."

Nationals find a little urgency, score a 5-4, series-opening victory over the Mets

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NEW YORK — At this point in the Washington Nationals’ season, when rock bottom is supposedly behind them but the grappling hooks have yet to catch atop the National League East, urgency should be a given. They hashed it all out in a team meeting. They trail two teams in the division. Nothing about their situation facilitates comfort.

So that their manager, Dave Martinez, said he hoped to see urgency in his players Thursday made a great deal of sense. That they won, 5-4, against the host New York Mets suggests they heard his message, even though it was spoken to reporters while most players were off doing something or other — many with ear buds locked firmly in their ears.

If it wasn’t a sense of urgency that helped the Nationals to a series-opening win, it might have been the boost provided by Max Scherzer’s seven strong innings in which he allowed three runs. It could have been the early lead provided by Anthony Rendon’s two home runs or the late insurance yielded by Bryce Harper’s 23rd of the season, a two-run shot that helped the Nationals move to 47-46. Whatever it was, the Nationals have seen this before — a night of stability, a game that went right. The issue, of course, is sustaining it. Urgency, nebulous as it is, seems to come and go.
“We’ve got a lot of baseball left,” Harper said. “That’s a good Mets team over there. We just got to keep grinding, keep doing our thing.”

Martinez has asked for urgency before, starting a few weeks ago. The trouble with urgency is defining it because teams playing with urgency generally win and those not playing with urgency generally do not. Or, perhaps, teams that win look as if they are playing with urgency. The diagnosis is complicated.

For example, you might argue that when Rendon followed Juan Soto’s first-inning single with a two-run homer, the Nationals were playing with urgency. You also could argue that when Asdrubal Cabrera’s blooper fell among four Nationals in the vicinity in the bottom of the inning, they were not displaying much urgency at all. Cabrera scored on a Jose Bautista single.
Rendon homered again two innings later, his 15th of the season. He is the kind of player who never seems to show much urgency at all. He is always relaxed, endlessly laid-back, and never seems to celebrate or show frustration. He is the epitome of consistency, offensively and defensively, the most reliable cog in the lineup as injuries and inconsistency threw wrenches into the operation.

[Box score: Nationals 5, Mets 4]

Rendon compiled a .796 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in April, a .907 OPS in May and a .937 OPS in June. Perhaps the key to offensive improvement is not so much urgency but rather steadiness and commitment to detail. Asked whether anything has changed with this team since the meetings and the urgency urging, Rendon said he couldn’t think of anything.

“I can’t pinpoint anything,” said Rendon, for whom nothing ever seems to change.
That steady, switch-always-flipped approach seems to work for Scherzer, too. The right-hander has not been dominant lately. He entered Thursday with a 3.27 ERA in his past five starts, averaging just more than nine strikeouts per nine innings. His consistency can best be explained by the fact that both numbers represented regressions from his mean.

The first run he allowed Thursday need not have scored. Someone should have caught Cabrera’s blooper, and Michael A. Taylor had a chance at Bautista’s RBI single. He and Scherzer talked about it after the game.

The second run the right-hander allowed, a home run to Bautista in the fourth, certainly should have been a run: Scherzer hung a pitch out and over the plate. He did the same to Kevin Plawecki in the seventh. By that time, he had allowed eight home runs in his past six starts, a familiar problem for Scherzer. If he has a kryptonite, it is the solo homer.
But Scherzer preserved the Nationals’ lead to the eighth, at which point he gave way to the bullpen after striking out five and scattering five hits in his final start before Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Nationals Park. He has stated his case to start that game and finished the season’s first half with a 2.41 ERA, a 12-5 record and a sub-1.00 WHIP.

[So what, exactly, is going on with Ryan Zimmerman’s health?]

Harper, who had hit just two of his homers in the seventh inning or later, hit his third in the seventh to provide some cushion.

“Just trying to go out there and take the same swing every day,” said Harper, who refuses to partake in the urgency narrative and always has. “Get a pitch over the plate and not miss it. Be patient and do the things I can to help this team win.”

Kelvin Herrera, supposedly the interim closer, was used in the eighth inning and surrendered a solo homer by Cabrera, and Ryan Madson handled the ninth. Martinez said later that he liked the matchup of Herrera against the top of the Mets’ order. He is managing with urgency, enough that he also warmed up Brandon Kintzler, just in case either needed help. The bullpen has been exhausted for much of this season, in large part because one-run games have necessitated so much urgency that Kintzler and Madson have hit the disabled list for stretches. Herrera showed signs of fatigue Thursday night, but he survived the ordeal.

Now the Nationals must show the same urgency Friday night — or at least appear to show the same urgency. Or maybe just win, which is the more urgent issue anyway.

Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper power Nationals in 5-4 win over Mets

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Anthony Rendon homered twice and scored on a Bryce Harper blast as the Washington Nationals’ bats came to life in the series opener in Citi Field. Max Scherzer gave up two homers and three runs in seven innings as the Nats took the series opener in New York from the Mets, 5-4.

Scherzer in Citi Field: Max Scherzer snapped a five-start winless streak last week when he got a staggering 18 runs of support in an 18-4 win over the Miami Marlins last week.

Tonight in Citi Field, he was facing the Nationals’ NL East rival from New York for the first time this season and looking for consecutive wins.

Scherzer admitted to making a number of mistakes in the start against the Fish, which saw him give up seven hits, three of them home runs, and four runs total in seven innings, but the support he received had him smiling after the game in spite of the mistakes.

This time out, the Nationals’ back-to-back, defending NL Cy Young award-winner was taking on the Mets in Citi Field, where he was (6-2) with a 1.76 career ERA and a .154/.229/.279 line against in 61 1⁄3 IP.

He took the mound with a 2-0 lead, courtesy of a two-run blast by Anthony Rendon in the top of the first, but a missed pop to center by Asdrubal Cabrera fell in for a hit instead of out No. 2, and Jose Bautista followed with an RBI line drive to center on a 2-2 slider to make it a 2-1 game.

Bautista was 2 for 2 against Scherzer on the night after lined an 0-1 slider out to left field for a leadoff blast in the bottom of the fourth, getting the Mets within one again after Rendon’s second home run of the night, 3-2 Nationals.
It was 5-2 when he came back out for the bottom of the seventh, following a two-run blast by Bryce Harper, and Scherzer came back out in the seventh and gave up a no-doubter of another homer on a 2-2 cutter to Kevin Plawecki, who got all of it and lined it out to left to make it a 5-3 game.

Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 2 HRs, 101 P, 73 S, 5/2 GO/FO.

Matz vs the Nats: Mets’ lefty Steven Matz faced the Nationals twice in the first month of the 2018 campaign, giving up six hits and four runs (three earned) in nine innings over which he walked three and struck out 14, with a .194/.265/.290 line against in those outings.

In start No. 3 of the season against New York’s divisional rivals, he was facing a team that had a .242/.323/.383 line vs left-handers, good for 7th/6th/10th among NL teams in 2018.

Matz and the Mets were down early tonight, however, after Juan Soto hit an opposite field single to left and Anthony Rendon followed with a two-run blast on a first-pitch sinker that got out in a hurry. No. 14 for Rendon, 2-0 Nationals.
Rendon got Matz again in the third, hitting a 2-2 curve out to left field for a solo shot this time, that put the Nationals up 3-1 after the Mets scored a run in the bottom of the first.

After working around singles in the fourth and fifth innings, Matz popped Trea Turner up to leave’em loaded after two walks and an infield single by Max Scherzer in the sixth, but he was lifted one out into the seventh at 100 pitches total on the night.
Steven Matz’s Line: 6.1 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks, 2 HRs, 100 P, 64 S, 8/4 GO/FO.

Rendon rolling: Coming into tonight’s game, Anthony Rendon had hit safely in 11 of his last 13 games with a total eight extra-base hits — four doubles and four home runs — over that stretch, in which he was 14 for 54 (.259/.317/.556) with five walks and 10 Ks. He didn’t take long before making it 12 of 14 games in which he’d hit safely, lining a first-pitch sinker from Mets’ starter Steven Matz over the left field fence 370+ feet from home for his 14th homer this season and a 2-0 lead.

Rendon made it a 3-1 game with his second of the night, in his second at bat, taking a 2-2 curve for a ride to left field in the top of the third.
He beat out an infield single in the seventh (3 for 4) and scored on a Bryce Harper bomb that made it 5-2.

BULLPEN ACTION: Steven Matz got one out in the seventh, but Anthony Rendon beat out a grounder for an infield single off righty Tim Peterson, and Mets’ manager Mickey Callaway got Jerry Blevins for Bryce Harper, and Blevins gave up a two-run blast to right on a 1-0 fastball that cleared the bullpens some 370+ feet from home. Harper’s 23rd of 2018, 5-2 Nationals.
Jacob Rhame got the call for the Mets in the top of the eighth, and worked around a two-out double by Trea Turner for a scoreless frame.

Kelvin Herrera got the eighth for the Nationals, against the top of the Mets’ order, and gave up a one-out solo shot to right by Asdrubal Cabrera, 5-4, and back-to-back, one-out walks, before popping up Wilmer Flores on the first pitch Flores saw. Two down. Matt den Dekker K’d swinging at a 1-1 changeup for out No. 3.

Jeurys Familia made quick work of the Nationals in the top of the ninth.

Ryan Madson got the save opportunity in the Mets’ half of the ninth and gave up a leadoff single to center by Kevin Plawecky. Ty Kelly came on to run at first, but was forced out at second, and Amed Rosario grounded into an inning-ending 6-3 in the next at bat.


Final Score: 5-4 Nationals

Nationals now 47-46

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Washington Nationals’ lineup for series opener with New York Mets in Citi Field

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Shut out for the 9th time in their last 36 games and the 10th time overall in 2018 in their 2-0 loss in the series finale with the Pittsburgh Pirates in PNC Park, Davey Martinez’s Washington Nationals once again proved the old baseball maxim true: You can’t win if you don’t score.

“We just didn’t hit,” Martinez said after the Nationals managed just five hits total and went 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position and eight left on base. “Our offense didn’t hit.”

“Consistency is the name of the game,” the first-year skipper said at another point in his post game press conference.

“You just got to be consistent. We’ve seen a lot. One day we hit and score a lot, and one day we don’t, so we’ve just got to get consistent.”

How that happens is the obvious question, of course.

“It’s more collectively,” Martinez explained. “Individually, the guys hit the ball here and there. But it’s more like our situational hitting. Runners on second base. Sometimes you just got to move the ball.”

Their best opportunity actually came courtesy of a leadoff double by starter Gio Gonzalez in the top of the third, but Adam Eaton lined out to left, Juan Soto flew out to center, and then Anthony Rendon lined out to center field as well for three quick outs that stranded the lefty.

How did they not score in that situation?

“We got some momentum there,” Martinez said. “You think you’re going score a run. You got the right guys up there. Just didn’t happen today.”

In the bottom of the third, Jordy Mercer doubled to start the Pirates’ half of the inning and scored two outs later on a homer to center field by Starling Marte which ended up being a game-winning hit.

What, if anything, can the Nationals do to address their issues with hitting with runners in scoring position?

“We had the guys that I feel like can get on base and the guys I feel like can drive them in,” Martinez said. “The base of our lineup is based on that. Adam gets on base. Soto can drive him in. Soto can walk. Anthony’s driving them in, can walk. [Bryce] Harper comes up and he can hit homers with guys on base.

“[Matt Wieters] against right-handed pitching is unbelievable. He hit the ball – he missed a couple balls just a bit. I’m not going to fault him for that. He had good swings all day. [Wilmer] Difo – you know, it just happens. We just got to consistently find ways to score runs.”

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Washington Nationals: Davey Martinez must be held accountable

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Davey Martinez‘s Washington Nationals were shut out for the tenth time this season on Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh.

In 2017 under Dusty Baker, whose firing already looks like a big mistake, the Nats were shut out just seven times all season.

Numerous key injuries and Bryce Harper‘s underperformance are clear factors in the Nats failing to produce a winning record just four games before the All-Star break. But one other reason is equally obvious: the team’s rookie manager is doing an extremely poor job so far.
Let’s start with baserunning. As was pointed out during ESPN’s June 24 Sunday Night Baseball broadcast, the Washington Nationals have looked absolutely woeful on the basepaths this year.

How did this happen? Look no further than the headline of this Washington Post article from February: “The Nationals are making baserunning mistakes. That’s fine with their new manager.”

When watching the majority of this year’s Spring Training games, it’s hard to overemphasize how horrific the Nats looked on the bases. It’s the fundamental errors that have been the most troubling.

Martinez, who pushed his players to “be aggressive”, thought his baserunners would lock in and start making correct decisions out of the blue. The new manager even told the Washington Post that “in [actual] games, they’ll be a little smarter”. That still hasn’t happened past the midway point of the season.
While there’s no stat to measure energy, another insight from watching exhibition games in West Palm Beach was how little the Nationals seemed to care. There was a palpable difference from 2017 that’s hard to describe. At times, it felt like no one wanted to be there.

The manager sets the tone in Spring Training, and if the Nats don’t turn this season around, Martinez’s camel stunt and “walk-off practice” might soon live in Washington baseball infamy.

To avoid completely wasting the 2018 season and potentially being fired come winter time, Martinez can and should seriously consider three immediate changes:

Stop giving away outs on the bases. In particularly egregious cases, players who make base running gaffes should be benched.
Start manufacturing runs. While this might not mesh, at first glance, with being more cautious on the bases, think of all the times the Nationals have had runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs only to strand both runners. Martinez needs to start utilizing the bunt, even if the batter is considered a “star”. There should also be a focus on productive outs, rather than strikeouts due to swinging for the fences, with runners on base and no outs.
Stop constantly changing the lineup. While the need to give Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton extra rest is understandable due to the nature of the injuries they’re recovering from, the respective lineups vs. righties and lefties shouldn’t be changing so frequently when everyone is in it. Set a tone of consistency, and consistency will be the likely result.

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