National are swept by Mets with 5-0 loss

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NEW YORK — June 1 was never circled on the Washington Nationals’ calendar, nor was it a loose date for the next baby step of their rebuild. Luis García was called up Wednesday because shortstop Alcides Escobar went on the 10-day injured list with a strained right hamstring. Evan Lee debuted against the New York Mets because the Nationals cut ties with one of their struggling starters last weekend.

The minor youth movement was entirely circumstantial, but it added new layers to another loss at Citi Field.

“I’m excited to see them both,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said before the Nationals fell, 5-0, and were swept in the three-game series. “I like when you have the middle of the field of [catchers] Riley Adams and [Keibert] Ruiz, [center fielder Victor] Robles out there and García out there — and a young pitcher on the mound. Up the middle is where these things are built, and I think you’re seeing kind of the beginning of what we’re trying to do with this reboot. And don’t forget the guy in right field is fairly young, too.”

Rizzo started Wednesday with his weekly radio spot, where he said he has no intention of trading Juan Soto, that 23-year-old star in right field. Yet those questions exist, at least in part, because Washington (18-34) has the National League’s worst record and one of its best players. There’s a disconnect Rizzo hopes to solve around Soto in the coming years. And he feels Lee and García could help with that, even if prospects named Cade Cavalli, Brady House and Cole Henry get more attention.

Lee, a 24-year-old with no appearances above Class AA, battled shaky command for most of his 3⅔ innings. In the first, second and third, though, he made enough pitches — mixing a sinker, curve and change-up — to avoid damage. At one point, he had thrown 21 balls and 21 strikes, leading to early walks and a few long at-bats. His final line showed four hits, two earned runs, three walks and two strikeouts. The runs scored on one of four hits for catcher Tomás Nido, with Dee Strange-Gordon booting a ball in center for an error to help push the second across. Nido, the Mets’ No. 9 hitter, entered with a .481 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

“It’s just a little kid’s lifelong dream,” said Lee, who was a two-way player at Arkansas and a 15th-round draft pick in 2018. “Can’t thank the Nationals enough for the opportunity to go out here and pitch against the Mets. Hats off to the player development of the Nationals, because coming out of college I didn’t have much experience as a pitcher and they built me into who I am. I hope that I made them proud today.”

How did he feel the outing went?

“The biggest thing for me is that my fastball was a little excited to the front side,” Lee said. “I felt like if I could get about 12 to 15 pitches back that were uncompetitive pitches … that’s something I’m going to have to work on, just getting outs through the zone.”

Why the Nationals’ Austin Voth experiment lasted as long as it did

García, who turned 22 last month and played 110 games for the Nationals over the previous two seasons, had been at Class AAA Rochester to sharpen his defense at shortstop. Rizzo said he was close to his third promotion before Escobar injured his hamstring Tuesday. The need for a shortstop just expedited the decision.

After leaving the Red Wings with a batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage slash line of .314/.368/.531, García finished Wednesday with a single and three strikeouts. On defense, he handled a grounder and the back half of a double play, but the Nationals’ fielding did them in again — even though they were charged with just one error.

Strange-Gordon’s fourth-inning bobble aided the Mets (35-17). In the seventh, with Steve Cishek pitching, second baseman César Hernández booted a sharp grounder and Soto took a bad route to a ball that fell just out of his reach. Nido, on second after Cishek’s wild pitch, went to third on Soto’s misplay and scored when Francisco Lindor lifted a sac fly off Kyle Finnegan. In the eighth, Nido’s fourth hit dropped well in front of a diving Yadiel Hernandez and rolled to the wall, bringing in two insurance runs against Jordan Weems.

It’s a difficult time to pitch for the Nationals and induce a lot of contact. If Lee sticks around, he’ll learn.

“They just to have come out and catch the baseball — plain and simple,” said Manager Dave Martinez, adding that Lee probably will get another start in five days. “It’s a big part of the game. We got to limit our mistakes. Can’t give good teams 30, 31 outs. You’re beating yourselves then, so we got to play better defense.”

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo: ‘We are not trading Juan Soto’

What has Rizzo made of the Nationals’ dreadful start? “The discouraging thing is that we’re not playing good defense and we’re not running the bases well. And those are fundamental mistakes that shouldn’t happen at the rate that they’re happening now,” the GM said. “So that’s the biggest takeaway I’ve seen from the beginning of the season. Unhappy with the pitchers’ aggressiveness — the starting pitchers’ aggressiveness, really — going into their starts. We have to be more aggressive in the strike zone, want to pitch inside more, we’ve to get outs over the plate and we can’t be nibbling.

“We’re a team that the margin for error is small. We can’t be giving extra outs on defense and running into outs on the base paths. To me, walks and errors have been the Achilles’ heel of the start.”

What hurt the offense most Wednesday? Yadiel Hernandez stranded five runners with a bases-loaded strikeout in the third and a three-foot dribbler in the fifth. Strange-Gordon failed to execute a safety squeeze before grounding into a rally-ending double play in the fourth. And with the Nationals trailing by three in the eighth, Maikel Franco (swinging strikeout), García (swinging strikeout) and pinch hitter Ruiz (groundout) went down in order against Adam Ottavino to strand two.

This latest shutout came courtesy of starter Carlos Carrasco, Seth Lugo, Ottavino and closer Edwin Díaz. The Nationals couldn’t capitalize on Carrasco walking five batters in five innings. The Nationals didn’t score in the final 21 innings of this series and have scored two or fewer runs in 24 of their 52 games.

What’s the Nationals’ record against the first-place Mets? They’re 2-8 with nine matchups to go.

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