WASHINGTON — This is the rotation-stabilizing, innings-eating version of Rick Porcello the Mets were looking for when they signed him last winter.
In by far the best of his three starts with his new team, Porcello cruised through seven innings of one-run ball Wednesday night as the Mets beat the Nationals, 3-1, to earn a split of the two-game series. The win was the 150th of Porcello’s career.
“To win one ballgame in the big leagues is not easy,” he said. “To be fortunate enough to get the opportunities year after year and be able to accumulate 150 wins is a huge honor.”
The Mets, who caught a big break when Washington ace Max Scherzer left after just one inning, received strong offensive nights from Brandon Nimmo (three walks, two runs), Dominic Smith (two RBIs) and Luis Guillorme (go-ahead single).
Several standout defensive plays and Seth Lugo’s two-inning save turned this one into a rare feat for the 5-8 Mets: a well-rounded, undramatic win.
“It’s a good step forward as a team to put everything together,” J.D. Davis said.
The Mets would benefit from having this version of Porcello regularly. Their rotation had a 5.12 ERA entering the day, with rookie David Peterson (3.86 ERA) qualifying as the second-best starter behind Jacob deGrom (2.12 ERA).
Porcello walked none and struck out four. He allowed a run in the first inning, when Adam Eaton and Juan Soto doubled, but settled in from there, needing only 33 pitches to get through his final four innings.
“When I’m throwing the ball like that,” Porcello said, “I feel like I’m going to give us a chance to win every time.”
That was a significant improvement over Porcello’s first two outings, when he allowed 11 runs (nine earned) in six innings. The difference, he said, was command of his sinker and his changeup — the latter of which he has a new grip for, something he has worked on with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner since February.
“To be able to come out, throw some good ones, get some punchouts, get some pop-outs and get some of the results I’m looking for on it was really encouraging,” Porcello said.
A surprise aid for Porcello this time: good defense. In the second inning, shortstop Andres Gimenez dashed across the infield, fielded a bouncer behind the mound and fired to first to get Asdrubal Cabrera.
In the fourth, rightfielder Michael Conforto nabbed Juan Soto trying to advance to third on a single, with Gimenez applying and holding the tag when Soto ever so slightly overslid the bag. Rojas called it a “game-changer." Porcello said it was a “momentum-changer.”
“They were starting to build something there, and that throw really quieted them,” said Porcello, who retired the next 10 batters to finish his night.
On the next play, Eric Thames sent a hard grounder to third, where Davis made a diving stop and strong throw from one knee to end the inning.
“What a great defensive game we played,” Rojas said. “Behind Rick, a guy that is going to induce a lot of contact, that was a big key tonight.”
Davis said, “We know the ball is going to be put in play, so it’s easy to stay engaged.”
Scherzer labored through a 27-pitch first. He said afterward that he tweaked his right hamstring but expects to make his next start. Smith’s sacrifice fly provided the Mets with an early lead.
Smith’s seven RBIs are tied with Robinson Cano for most on the team. Guillorme’s knock came after he had just three at-bats in the first dozen games of the season.
The next step is to win a second consecutive game for the second time this season.
“You saw the lineup we put out there tonight (and) we beat a really good Nationals team,” Smith said. “We’re very confident in everything we do.”