Nationals find no relief in the sixth and fall again to the Mets

NEW YORK — Wednesday night’s sixth inning presented a familiar scenario for Dave Martinez and his Washington Nationals. The game was in the balance, and the manager turned to his bullpen to get his team out of trouble.

The decision to bring in Derek Law made sense on the surface. The results showed just how fickle relievers can be from season to season.

Law, one of the most effective pitchers in the major leagues a year ago when it came to stranding inherited runners, has been Martinez’s go-to guy in those situations this season. His 2024 results have been a far cry from what he managed in 2023. Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to the New York Mets at Citi Field was just the latest example, and it helped stretch the Nationals’ losing streak to four.

“I was just trying to get a groundball and obviously hold the runs,” Law said. “It didn’t work out how it was supposed to. It’s kind of been that way, at least recently.”

The situation Law entered was not exactly enviable. Patrick Corbin had allowed three straight hits to open the inning, surrendering a ­one-run lead and leaving runners at second and third in a 2-2 game. Law walked the first batter he faced, Francisco Alvarez, on four pitches. He then allowed a ­two-run single to Jose Iglesias to make it 4-2. A throwing error by Luis García Jr. on what could have been an inning-ending double play made it 5-2 before Law finally got out of the inning.

“It’s frustrating,” Law said. “Pat pitched great. You come in and you’re expected to your job. Pat did his job and you come in and you don’t — it ends up being his runs. I think it’s more frustrating doing that than coming in and giving them up for yourself. For it to end like that, it’s kind of a bummer and it takes a blow to the team as well.”

Law, who was signed to a minor league contract this spring, allowed just two of his 26 inherited runners to score a season ago when he was pitching for the Cincinnati Reds. He has allowed 20 of 29 to come around this season.

“You can’t give up on him,” Martinez said. “When he’s on, he’s really good. He closed a 1-0 game with them. We just got to get him squared away and get him back in the zone.”

Corbin did his part, holding the Mets (46-45) at bay into the sixth as the Nationals (42-51) missed a chance to square this three-game series. Brandon Nimmo tagged him for a first-inning homer, but Corbin was strong after that, striking out five before running into trouble in the sixth.

The 34-year-old lefty also deftly worked his way out of trouble, most notably in the fourth when he escaped a bases-loaded jam by striking out Tyrone Taylor with three straight sliders.

To that point, Washington gave Corbin just enough support to put him in line for the win. The Nationals made a slight shift in their lineup against righty Luis Severino — the only New York pitcher they didn’t face in the teams’ four-game series last week.

Martinez slid Lane Thomas down into the sixth slot in the order, putting three lefties, including James Wood in the second spot, and switch hitter Keibert Ruiz ahead of him. Thomas, who came in hitting more than 100 points better against lefties (.329 to .207), had batted lower than fourth just once this season.

Stacking the lineup paid dividends in the fourth, when Ruiz, Thomas and Juan Yepez singled to give Washington a 2-1 lead. The second run came in with the help of a throwing error by Taylor in right field.

That lead lasted until the sixth, when Corbin found trouble and Martinez turned to Law. Corbin said he felt his slider was working well and, in hindsight, he could have gone to it more in the sixth. Instead, he left his pitches up in the strike zone.

“I thought they had some good at-bats there,” Corbin said. “Made some pitches; they had some good swings there. We got into a little bit of trouble. Maybe try to look back and see what we could’ve done a little bit different.”

“We’re pressing, obviously — offensively, defensively,” Law said. “It’s our job to come in as the bullpen and close the door, and I just didn’t do that today.”

The Nationals had four hits in the fourth inning, but they finished with just five. García doubled off lefty Danny Young with two outs in the eighth inning. With Thomas coming to the plate with a chance to cut into the deficit, Mets Manager Carlos Mendoza went to right-hander José Buttó. Thomas struck out swinging to end the inning.

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