WASHINGTON -- After watching how the Mets rode their young starting pitchers to the World Series in 2015, the Nationals began this season encouraged to have their own pair of young pitching prospects ready to provide a boost down the stretch. However, both Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez -- respectively Washington's No. 1 and No. 3 prospects as rated by MLB Pipeline -- have been ineffective in the Majors, forcing the Nationals to start right-hander Mat Latos on Monday night at Nationals Park.
Before Latos' spot start was cut short by a tight right hamstring, he filled in admirably, including launching a solo homer to help lead the Nationals to an 8-1 trouncing of the Mets.
"He had good mound presence," Washington manager Dusty Baker said. "He was throwing the ball downhill. He had a good cutter that jammed a couple guys. He had pretty good command with his fastball and his changeup. I've seen him hit before, and I know he can hit. … That was big for us to win that game."
Washington extended its lead in the National League East to 10 games and reduced its magic number to nine, but each loss is much more crucial for the Mets, who are competing for position in the NL Wild Card race. Because the Cardinals also lost Monday, New York retained a half-game lead for the NL's second Wild Card spot.
The Mets announced after the game that they will not start right-hander Rafael Montero again after a disastrous outing Monday night. He surrendered six runs in 1 2/3 innings, including a four-run second, when he allowed the homer to Latos and a three-run homer to Anthony Rendon.
"It's pretty frustrating, because he does have good stuff," manager Terry Collins said. "You can see when he's actually throwing strikes, there's not a lot of good swings. But he gets himself in trouble because he gets behind in counts and ends up giving up good pitches to hit. Energy came out fast."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Filling in strong: Both Giolito and Lopez have already had outings against the Mets go poorly this year, so the Nationals turned to Latos to make his first start since being released by the White Sox in June. He gave up six runs in 4 1/3 innings to the Nationals in that last Chicago start, but he held the Mets to one run in 4 1/3 innings Monday night. Latos could have pitched deeper in the game, but after allowing a pair of runners to reach in the fifth, he signaled toward the dugout for the team's trainers as his hamstring began to lock up even more.
"I felt great, felt like I had good command of the offspeed pitches and good fastball," Latos said. "You know ... would have liked to have gone a couple more innings for the bullpen. It's unfortunate that [the injury] happened." More >
Sticking with Rafael: Though Montero walked three batters -- including two with the bases loaded -- during his 37-pitch first inning, the Mets trailed by only a run when he came to the plate in the top of the second. Still, Collins opted not to pinch-hit for Montero, bringing him back out for a second inning instead. Within minutes, Montero was out of the game anyway, having served up Latos' solo homer and Rendon's three-run shot.
"I came out to do my job, but things didn't work out," Montero said through an interpreter. "I've just got to thank God for the opportunity, and continue to work hard." More >
Making them pay: After a two-out double by Daniel Murphy in the second inning, the Mets elected to intentionally walk Bryce Harper to instead pitch to Rendon, one of the Majors' hottest hitters since the All-Star break. Rendon admitted he took offense to someone being walked in front of him and responded with a three-run homer.
"Obviously, it makes sense," Rendon said. "I won't hold a grudge against them, but obviously I want to do well, and it's almost like a slap in the face. It's a good move. I don't think you want to pitch right-lefty to Harper, the reigning MVP, so it makes sense."
Perhaps it does, but Rendon is hitting .310 since the All-Star break with 19 doubles, nine homers, 42 RBIs and 30 runs scored.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With a single in the first inning, Murphy collected a hit in his 17th consecutive game against the Mets, matching a Major League record for single-season hitting streak against them, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Murphy tied Rennie Stennett (1974), Luis Castillo (2002) and Dee Gordon (2015).
WHAT'S NEXT Mets: The Mets hope to give their bullpen a reprieve when Noah Syndergaard takes the mound for a 7:05 p.m. ET game Tuesday against the Nationals. Syndergaard has pitched at least five innings in 10 consecutive starts, recently compiling 22 innings over one three-start stretch. He is 4-1 with a 1.38 ERA since Aug. 16.
Nationals: Right-hander A.J. Cole will make his fifth start this season while filling in for the injured Stephen Strasburg as the Nationals host the Mets for the second game of this series. Cole has been the most effective of Washington's starting pitching prospects this season with 25 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 2/3 innings.