WASHINGTON - To combat his team's struggles at the plate, Mets manager Terry Collins has juggled his starting lineup, though some of the efforts have generated some criticism.
In recent days, promising centerfielder Juan Lagares has lost his regular place in the lineup, with Collins willing to sacrifice his stellar glove for better bats.
Yet, as they showed once more in Friday night's 5-2 loss to the Nationals, the results have hardly changed for the Mets.
The Mets' third straight loss came with an added dose of cruelty, a final twist of the knife in the ninth inning, when Daniel Murphy just missed hitting a game-tying three-run homer.
"I thought that was a homer," Collins said. "I thought it was farther than that."
With two outs in the ninth, Lagares worked a pinch-hit walk and Eric Young Jr. followed with another against closer Rafael Soriano, who watched Murphy's long drive sail to the fence in right. The ball would have struck the top of the fence -- short of a homer but enough for an extra-base hit.
Murphy got neither thanks to Jayson Werth, who timed his leap just in time to pull down the drive and end the game.
"He crowded me just a little bit, got in on me just a hair," Murphy said. "I knew it was going to be tight. Jayson made a good play on it."
Lefthander Jonathon Niese (2-3) took the loss after he was knocked around for the first time this season.
By the time Niese was pulled for a pinch hitter in the fifth, he had thrown 84 pitches in four innings, his shortest outing of the season. The Nationals bashed him for five runs, three earned, and he tied a season high with eight hits.
"I didn't execute my pitches when I needed to," Niese said. "I couldn't get into a rhythm."
In the first, David Wright botched a grounder and Murphy bobbled a sure double-play ball, leading to a pair of unearned runs as the Nationals took a 3-0 lead. By the third, the Mets trailed 5-0 after run-scoring hits by Scott Hairston and Tyler Moore.
But run support -- or a lack thereof -- proved to be as much of a nemesis as the Nationals.
In May, the Mets have dropped 11 of 15 games, averaging 3.9 runs. Though that's not far off from the 4.1 runs they averaged in the season's first month, that average has been propped up by a few big nights.
In that span, the Mets have scored three runs or fewer eight times this month, including four shutouts, and are 0-8 in those games.
Only in the fifth did the Mets chip away against Tanner Roark (3-1).
With nobody out and runners on second and third, Ruben Tejada's groundout scored Lucas Duda, ending the Mets' scoreless innings streak at 22.
Two batters later, Eric Young doubled over the head of Hairston in leftfield, allowing Recker to score from second base.
The Mets didn't score again.
"I thought it had a chance," Murphy said of his ninth-inning drive. "In my heart of hearts, I knew it was going to be close."
Notes & quotes: Rehabbing righthander Matt Harvey joined the Mets in Washington. Since this three-day trip is followed by a nine-game homestand, Collins said it made more sense for Harvey to remain with the team instead of going to Florida.