Mets starting pitcher David Peterson throws to a Nationals batter...

Mets starting pitcher David Peterson throws to a Nationals batter during the second inning of a game Tuesday in Washington. Credit: AP/Nick Wass

WASHINGTON — In the Mets’ mission to stabilize their bullpen, a top agenda item in their overarching quest to save their season, remember the name: Dedniel Nunez.

Nunez’s emergence as an intriguing — albeit not totally proven — option continued Tuesday night in the Mets’ 6-3 win over the Nationals with another excellent outing. He tossed 1 1/3 perfect innings, serving as a one-man bridge between starter David Peterson and closer-for-the-day Reed Garrett.

The highlight: Manager Carlos Mendoza trusted him to get one of the biggest outs of the game, when Lane Thomas stepped to the plate as the potential tying run in the bottom of the seventh. Thomas went down swinging at a 97.3-mph fastball that Nunez said he placed “exactly” where he wanted it, a couple of inches above the strike zone.

“In that moment, I just thought to myself, I’m going to beat you,” Nunez said through an interpreter.

Mendoza, who pulled Peterson after two runs and 6 2/3 innings, said: “Obviously, he’s pretty nasty there.”

After Nunez returned for an easy eighth, his ERA sat at 2.31. He has struck out 19 of 45 batters — a 42.2% rate that ranks higher than elite relievers such as Houston’s Josh Hader, Baltimore’s Craig Kimbrel and Edwin Diaz.

With the state of the Mets’ relief corps, there is opportunity for somebody, anybody to step up into a high-leverage role.

 

Diaz has dealt with ineffectiveness and injury in the form of a right shoulder impingement; he is due to start a rehab assignment Thursday. Brooks Raley had season-ending elbow surgery. Adam Ottavino has been hit-or-miss lately. Garrett has regressed some after early dominance.

Garrett allowed Washington (27-33) to bring up the would-be tying run again in the bottom of the ninth before inducing a flyout from Thomas. That allowed the Mets’ early offense — Harrison Bader’s two-run homer, Starling Marte’s two-run triple — off the debuting DJ Herz to stand as the difference.

The Mets (26-35) collected their first win by more than one run since May 19.

They might not have done it without Nunez, who turns 28 on Wednesday, was not much of a prospect and wasn’t even in major-league spring training.

“He’s a guy we pegged as a potential contributor,” pitching coach Jermey Hefner said. “We thought given his demeanor and his stuff, it could be an easy transition.”

And so it has. The Mets called up Nunez for the first time on April 9, when they were desperate for a rested arm during a series in Atlanta. Since then, he has tossed more than an inning in five of his eight appearances, none bigger than this.

“It’s more fun because it brings out that energy, but also puts you in that (state of mind) that you’re a winner in that situation,” Nunez said.

Nunez initially joined the Mets organization in 2016, when he signed as a 20-year-old — very old for a player from the Dominican Republic. He didn’t pitch at all in 2020-21 because of the pandemic and Tommy John surgery. He spent the latter of those seasons with the Giants, who selected him in the Rule 5 draft but did not keep him.

With a mid-to-high-90s fastball that Mendoza praised as "heavy," plus a slider and a recently improved splitter, Nunez has impressed.

Now comes the hard part: Is this for real? Or is it a small-sample mirage?

A potential future test would feature Nunez being allowed to face lefthanded batters, who historically have hit him hard, in big moments.

“It’s another player development win,” Hefner said. “The computer can tell you a lot. And it can tell you what potentially could be a major-league pitch. But ultimately, how the hitters respond to it is that last lever. And major-league hitters aren’t squaring him up. All systems go. Keep him there. Keep finding those righty lanes where he can come in and get some punchouts.”

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