Niese saddled with tough-luck loss
Lefty allows one run, strands 9 over 7 innings
NEW YORK -- The frustration showing on Jon Niese's face grew with each bouncer that found a hole, with each grounder that hit off a base or an outstretched glove and squirted onto the outfield grass. By the time the night was done, Niese had induced 20 ground balls and stranded nine runners, but it wasn't enough.
Niese versus Gio Gonzalez. The pitching matchup going into Saturday's 1-0 loss to the Nationals at Citi Field didn't appear to feature the sparkle of Friday's, when Matt Harvey and Max Scherzer battled pitch for pitch. But the final score represented the product of another duel between New York and Washington. Mets manager Terry Collins expects it won't be the last.
"This is how [these series are] going to go in my opinion," said Collins, whose team dropped its fourth game in the last six tries against divisional opponents. "With their pitching staff, every night you're going to see almost a No.1 starter."
Saturday night, that was Gonzalez, who pitched more like the 21-win pitcher he was in 2012 than the 5.01-ERA pitcher he was through his first four starts. Gonzalez struck out nine over seven scoreless innings and cruised to put up the zeros Niese fought his hardest to match.
For the most part, Niese did. He allowed nine singles -- seven of them ground balls. The only one that hurt him was Michael Taylor's chopper in the second, which bounced out of the glove of a diving Daniel Murphy and scored Ian Desmond. Desmond and Danny Espinosa led off the inning with -- you guessed it -- ground-ball singles.
"Tough-luck stuff," said Niese, who fell to 2-2. "But give them credit. They hit the ball hard, too."
That's barely been enough the last two games, during which each team's starters combined to allow just one run. Harvey blanked the Nationals on Friday night, while Scherzer allowed a single blip. Niese wasn't nearly as dominant Saturday, but he found ways to dance out of danger.
"He limited the damage," Collins said. "If you hold them to singles, you can give up some hits and still stay in the game."
Gonzalez, meanwhile, limited New York's opportunities. When small ones presented themselves, the Mets ran out of them.
Juan Lagares was thrown out at the plate attempting to score on Lucas Duda's first-inning double. With one out in a young game, Collins didn't regret taking a chance there.
"Once in a while, you've got to make them make a play," he said.
But in the sixth, Dilson Herrera's attempt to stretch an infield single into a double was more reckless. After he was thrown out, the Mets never threatened again.
"That was an error of enthusiasm," Collins said of the rookie Herrera's mistake. "He'll learn."
The Mets are learning as well. They are learning they can match up with Washington's heralded staff. Even with Saturday's loss, the season series between the clubs stands at 3-3, a far cry from the 4-15 record New York mustered against Washington last season.
"Both teams can pitch," Mets left fielder Michael Cuddyer said. "These are the types of games you're going to get."