NEW YORK — On Thursday, the Nationals were shut down by Phillies ace Aaron Nola, a Cy Young Award candidate in the National League.
On Friday, it was a journeyman pitcher named Jason Vargas — who entered the game with an ERA of 7.67 this year — who helped silence the fading Washington bats.
Vargas, who had not faced the Nationals in 12 years, threw six shutout innings and two relievers finished the whitewash as the New York Mets won 3-0 at CitiField.
It was the 13th time the Nationals were blanked this year, and the second day in a row. Washington is now 13-23 against lefty starters this season after being held to four hits.
“I wouldn’t have known it if you wouldn’t have told me,” Nationals shortstop Trea Turner, who was 0-for-4, said of facing lefties. “I feel like we face them they are there for a reason. Tough at-bats. (Vargas) has great stuff, good off-speed pitches to keep you out in front. He pitched well today. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw.”
In his first win ever over the Nationals, Vargas kept the ball down in the strike zone.
“He is good at it. So anything up is going to be a mistake,” Turner said. “You have to capitalize on those (up). It is down (in the zone a lot), that is where he wants to miss. He is doing his job; it is our job to do ours.”
The Nationals (64-65) failed to pick up ground in the National League East, as both the Braves and Phillies lost. Washington is 8 ½ games out of first place.
The defending East champs won two of three games against the Phillies at home earlier this week.
But why can’t go they get any momentum?
“You can ask all you want. If you we knew or you knew we would have fixed it by now,” Turner said. “Sometimes that’s baseball. It’s a hard game; that is why you play 162 games. That is why it is a long season. I think that is what makes baseball tough.”
The Nationals did get some good news – if it can be called that – in that starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez seemed to escape serious injury after he was hit in the foot on a ball off the bat of Austin Jackson in the sixth.
The veteran lefty stayed in the game and allowed just one run in seven innings.
“It was a little tender,” Gonzalez said. “I was just thinking the whole time: ‘I’ve got to finish this inning. Got to finish this inning.’ Once I settled down a little bit, once I took a little bit off it, it got a little tender and a little sore. We won’t quite feel the result of it until tomorrow, but as of now I’m still working on it.”
“He battled. I thought that ball hit him pretty good. Luckily it got him on the shoe so it took some of the blow. He battled for us,” Turner said.
Vargas struck out the side in the fourth and fifth. The Nationals finally hit the ball hard in the sixth, but made three straight outs on hard-hit balls. Turner lined out to start the frame.
“I feel like that has happened quite a bit this year and we have had to battle that,” Turner said. “That is what happens when you have good hitters in the lineup; lineouts are good at-bats for us. You have to put a positive spin on anything you can, especially when it’s a one-run ballgame.”
Gonzalez gave up a run in the first and then Jay Bruce hit a two-run homer off reliever Tim Collins to make it 3-0 in the eighth.
“Gio was good,” said manager Dave Martinez. “He took a nice line drive off his ankle there but he said he felt fine. He did really well. I’m proud of him. He went out there twice, he’s leaping around and he assured me he can get the outs so I told him get them and he did. He did really well.”