Seven pitches flew from Doug Slaten’s left arm Tuesday night. One of them, a slider that hung a nanosecond too long, stayed in the mind of the Washington Nationals reliever.
That pitch turned into the difference at Nationals Park, as the New York Mets pulled out a 6-4 victory.
“That’s the No. 1 key to my job, coming in and getting guys out with men on base,” Slaten said. “I hope my luck will change a little bit.”
Slaten, who hasn’t been charged with an earned run in 12 appearances this season, entered the game in a tough spot. With one out in the sixth inning, starter Jordan Zimmermann allowed back-to-back singles. One came on a broken bat; the other was a ground ball that sneaked through a hole.
Though Zimmermann’s fastball still hit 95 mph and he’d thrown only 73 pitches, manager Jim Riggleman summoned Slaten from the bullpen.
The move perplexed Zimmermann.
“That’s probably the best I’ve felt,” said Zimmerman, who surrendered five earned runs for the second staight start. “I gave up a lot of hits and got in some tight situations, but I thought I pitched pretty well.”
But in trotted Slaten to face the left-handed hitting catcher Josh Thole, batting .226 with four RBIs.
Then came Slaten’s hanging slider. Thole lined it into left field. Mike Morse raced toward the ball, but it barely veered past his outstretched glove. Two runs scored, and Thole pulled into second with a double.
It was an unusual slip-up from the Nationals’ bullpen, which holds batters to a .241 average.
“Everybody gets in these funks now and then,” Riggleman said of Slaten. “He’s a quality left-hander I have a lot of confidence in. He’s got the ability to get ground balls, and he just didn’t get one there.”
The runs were left on the tab of Zimmermann. Twenty months removed from Tommy John surgery, he struck out only one batter Tuesday compared to his career average of 8.1 whiffs per nine innings. But ground balls and a low pitch count, not strikeouts, were Zimmermann’s goal.
He dodged in and out of trouble. That led to five hits in the first three innings. But then he settled down to retire eight of the next nine Mets (10-13). The one who reached, Jose Reyes, was picked off by Zimmermann.
“I don’t think he was at the top of his game, as he has been a couple of times previous,” Riggleman said. Then he added: “But he threw the ball good.”
Aside from their pitching issues, the Nationals (10-12) got a breakout performance from catcher Wilson Ramos. He slugged two solo home runs as part of a 3-for-4 night with three RBIs.
Ramos took advantage of Mets starter Chris Young, who was making his first big-league outing since returning from a stint on the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis in his right biceps.
Never known as a hard thrower, the 6-foot-10 Young struggled to top 85 mph. After sending a 1-0 pitch over the fence in left field in the second, Ramos and Jayson Werth hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth. Both long balls came on 85-mph fastballs that hung over the middle of the plate.
But in front of the announced crowd of 14,603, that wasn’t enough.
“We just couldn’t put a zero on the board there,” Riggleman said. “Unfortunately the ball was just out of reach in left field.”