Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer throws during the first inning...

Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer throws during the first inning of a game against the Nationals at Nationals Park on Sunday in Washington. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON — After crossing the one-quarter threshold of the season, the Mets are disappointed with themselves, but their doubleheader split on Sunday — a 3-2 loss to the Nationals in the first game and an 8-2 win in the second — came with a series of encouraging signs.

Max Scherzer pitched more like his regular self in the latter contest, holding Washington to one run and two hits in five innings.

The lineup, which blew a bunch of scoring chances in the first game, exploded for eight runs in the fifth inning in support of Scherzer. Starling Marte and Mark Canha, the hitters who have suffered the most severe drop-offs relative to last season, keyed the big inning with a combined four hits and four RBIs.

The Mets have a losing record at 20-21, but they still have three-quarters of the season to go. What would help: more of the all-around competence they showed in beating up a bad team.

“We’re a good team. There’s plenty of good teams in the league,” Scherzer said. “It’s just continuing to get into the season, get into the groove and find a rhythm and continue to play well and win series. This group can win. We know it. I think we’re all getting our footing and we’re getting it going.”

Daniel Vogelbach said between games: “Obviously, we would like to have a lot more wins than we have .  .  . The only thing we can control is keep working, keep coming and hopefully we’re talking at the [fourth] quarter of the year about how great we’ve played for the last three quarters.”

Manager Buck Showalter called Scherzer’s outing “the highlight of the day other than winning the game.”


The only run Scherzer allowed came when Marte misplayed CJ Abrams’ long fly ball to right into an RBI double. He retired his final seven batters before exiting after 83 pitches — a nod to his minimal workload lately. Scherzer missed his previous start because of neck spasms and also has been dealing with a back injury.

Notably, Scherzer’s fastball averaged 94 mph. That was back where he wanted it, up from 92.7 in his outing against the Tigers on May 3.

“Maybe the neck spasms were a blessing in disguise to finally get that [back problem] fully rested, fully healed,” said Scherzer, who declared that he is “physically good enough that I’m going to avoid the IL.”

“I feel like I was able to get my arm slot back on top behind the ball, finally able to get synced up with my leg mechanics and upper-body mechanics and the velo showed up because of that,” he said.

Showalter added: “I would’ve signed up in blood for him to get through five innings and get his pitch count up like that.”

The Mets’ scoring outburst came at a good time for Scherzer, who said he was much more winded than usual because the neck problem limited his cardiovascular activity during the past week. Righthander Jake Irvin gave up six runs in 4 2⁄3 innings for the Nationals (17-23).

“That was needed,” Scherzer said. “I was huffing and puffing.”

The undercard was a continuation of the teams’ game from Saturday, which picked up right where it left off — top of the third, one out, Mets with runners on second and third. The first batter, Brandon Nimmo, hit a sacrifice fly to tie it at 1.

The Mets stranded nine runners, including two in the ninth. Jeff McNeil smacked a line drive to left-center, but centerfielder Alex Call made a running catch to end it. They also blew a bases-loaded, one-out chance in the fourth.

“Hitting is hard,” said Vogelbach, who struck out in that non-rally. “Pitchers make pitches sometimes. We put good swings on balls and they don’t fall. Jeff’s last ball describes everything.”

Showalter tried to get through the game with the bullpen B squad.

Stephen Nogosek yielded one run in three innings and Dominic Leone allowed one run in two innings. In the half-inning after the Mets tied it at 2 in the seventh, Abrams tagged Leone for a go-ahead homer that stood as the eventual winner.

“Our pitching staff gave us a real good chance to win the game,” Showalter said.

The same was true in the next game.

McNeil said: “Everybody in that locker room knows we need to take care of business.”

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