- - Friday, September 21, 2018

The season is ending on a downer for the Nationals, who lost for the second night in a row Friday to the lowly New York Mets.

The two-time defending champions are in danger of finishing the year under .500, but right-handed pitcher Joe Ross could be a bright spot for 2019 even though he suffered the 4-2 loss at Nationals Park on Friday.

He touched 97 miles-per-hour with his fastball in his previous start against the Cubs. Ross didn’t get that high Friday but managed to complete six innings and 95 pitches despite some sloppy fielding in back of him during the evening.

“Joe has been great, coming off Tommy John (surgery). It’s a huge step,” said Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, wearing a Browns jersey of Baker Mayfield. “I’m proud of him; very bright future ahead of him.”

Ross, who had Tommy John surgery last season, made his second official start for the Nationals. His first start for the big league club was rained out earlier this month in the second inning against the Cubs.

A California native who turned 25 in May, Ross made six minor league rehab starts at four different levels this year before coming back to the Nationals. After throwing 74 pitches in his last start, Ross gave up eight hits – several hit hard – and four runs (three earned) with one walk and three strikeouts.

“He got the ball down,” said Dave Martinez, the Nationals manager. “He is more effective when he is down. He was able to do that. He is a guy who throws a sinker and has a good changeup. He is more effective pitching down.”

The Nationals were shut down by Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom, who gave up just one run on three hits in seven innings. The Cy Young candidate lowered his ERA to 1.77 and set a big league record with 28 starts in a row of allowing three runs or less.

“He’s one of the best in baseball,” Harper said.

The third-place Nationals, with the loss, were closer to being eliminated from the National League East race. If the Braves won their game later on Friday night the division title goes to Atlanta. The Nationals still have a very slim chance of the wild card, but that could end Saturday.

“It is part of the game. They are playing good baseball,” Harper said of the first-place Braves.

“We want to play every game to win,” Martinez said of his players. “They want to win every game. They are not going to quit. We just have to keep going.”

The series continues Saturday at 4:05 p.m. as the Nationals (77-77) try to get over the .500 mark. Tanner Roark was slated to pitch for the Nationals on Saturday but instead Austin Voth will get the start for Washington. Roark was away from the team this week as his wife was expecting a child.

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