ATLANTA — Consider the Mets ready for the Max Scherzer/Jacob deGrom portion of their week.
They get to play their pair of aces the next two days after a miserable past two. In a 5-0 loss to Atlanta on Tuesday, Taijuan Walker exited after two innings due to what the Mets called back spasms — the second night in a row that their starting pitcher lasted just six outs in a game they eventually dropped.
The Mets’ lead in the NL East is down to 3 1⁄2 games heading into the back half of this four-game series (the start of an eight-game road trip that will take them to Philadelphia this weekend).
Walker will get an MRI on Wednesday after his back “locked up,” as he described it, on him following the second inning. He finished the frame by covering first base on Vaughn Grissom’s inning-ending groundout. “As I was walking back toward the dugout, back just started getting tight,” he said. “Walked down, tried to bend over, and when I tried to come back up it just locked up on me.”
Walker added that he is “not sure” how worried to be because he has not previously dealt with a back issue like this, but the training staff “isn’t too concerned.” “I didn’t feel like I stepped wrong and I didn’t hear or feel anything pop or anything,” he said. “It just sort of tightened up.”
Manager Buck Showalter added: “He’s had similar things that resolved fairly quickly. I hope that’s the case.”
Walker’s aborted outing was otherwise ordinary, though his velocity was down and his command seemed off (two walks). His early exit came a night after Carlos Carrasco strained his left oblique in what became a blowout loss. He is expected to miss at least three weeks.
“I knew my job tonight was to go as deep as possible, try to give the bullpen a break,” Walker said. “I felt like my stuff was good. I felt like I was going to be able to go six-plus innings. It sucks, and the timing couldn’t be worse. A couple guys had to go out there and wear it.”
Wearing it were righthanders R.J. Alvarez (2 1⁄3 innings, three runs) and Stephen Nogosek (two innings, two runs), who were called up just hours prior because the team needed rested relievers. They got the Mets (75-42) into the seventh — and kept it reasonably close.
The first guy through the bullpen doors was Alvarez, who made his first major-league appearance since 2015 (when Michael Harris II, his first batter, was 14 years old). He allowed Atlanta (72-46) to jump ahead via homers from Robbie Grossman and Matt Olson, the latter an absolute no-doubter that went an estimated 443 feet off the roof of the restaurant/party area in rightfield.
Showalter called Nogosek “a shot in the arm for us to stay on our feet.” He began to tire near the end, walking Ronald Acuna Jr. with one out in the seventh. Nogosek’s last batter, Dansby Swanson, lined a single to left-center. When leftfielder Tyler Naquin bobbled it, Swanson took off for second, drawing a throw, which allowed Acuna to scoot home with an insurance run.
What had been a mere three-run deficit going into the late innings proved insurmountable on a night when righthander Charlie Morton turned in one of his best starts of the year, going 6 2⁄3 shutout innings with a season-high-tying 12 strikeouts. He walked a batter and scattered three hits.
That was a drastic improvement from his first two outings against the Mets, who rocked him for 10 runs (nine earned) in 10 2/3 innings.
“He was throwing everything for strikes and hitting his spots,” said Jeff McNeil, who represented the potential tying run when he struck out against lefty Dylan Lee in the seventh. “That makes hitting hard.”