Mets held to 1 hit, waste strong start from Jose Quintana in 1-0 loss to Nationals

WASHINGTON — After a month of offensive explosions, the series finale between the Amazins’ and the Washington Nationals featured few balls in play and a scoreless duel that lasted until the bottom of the eighth inning.

But Jesse Winker pinch-hit a home run off of right-hander Adrian Houser (1-5) to break the scoreless tie, and the Mets fell 1-0 to split a four-game series on Thursday afternoon at Nationals Park in the Fourth of July matinee.

Left-hander Jose Quintana shut Washington out over seven innings, holding the Nats to four hits and walking three while striking out one. He faced traffic on the base paths only once, with the Nats putting two on in the fifth inning. But even then, it wasn’t much.

Riley Adams led off with a single to left and was moved over on a sacrifice bunt by Ildemaro Vargas. Quintana then walked Jacob Young, but struck out CJ Abrams and got Lane Thomas to ground out to third base to end the inning.

Quintana lowered his ERA from 4.57 to 4.22, down from his season-worst mark of 5.44 on May 10.

“I tried to attack the zone and use my strengths,” Quintana said. “And sometimes, the hitters’ strengths too. I’m going to make that kind of adjustment in the middle of the game, [after seeing] where they’re at, what kind of swings they show me. That’s the adjustment I make. It feels great and I’m always ready to compete and get out there.”

A mechanical change made after his start in London nearly a month ago appears to have turned around Quintana’s season.

“With the way he’s thrown the baseball the past three outings, you would think that he’s in a pretty good spot,” said manager Carlos Mendoza.

It was a solid start, but right-hander Cole Irvin (7-6) was even better. He held the Mets to only one hit and one walk, striking out eight. He faced only two over the minimum through eight innings.

Irvin has been lights-out as of late, having posted a 1.70 ERA with 34 strikeouts over his last six starts. The Mets failed to do much against a mid-90s fastball that looked harder coming out of his hand than it really was.

“He attacked,” Mendoza said. “The life on his fastball, especially at the top with the way he commanded it, and then the way he used his breaking ball. I thought we were late at times on his fastball, and then the way he used the breaking ball kept us off balance, so we couldn’t get much going today. We had a hard time catching up to his fastball.”

Each pitcher gave their bullpens badly needed length, but neither was able to benefit from any run support until Winker came through in the eighth, driving Houser’s 1-0 curveball into the right-field stands.

The game was played in less than two hours, leaving little time for pitchers to get breathers in between innings. The 11 a.m. start time didn’t make it any easier.

“I like quick games, but I don’t like that kind of quick game because you don’t get that support,” Quintana said. “I was waiting for our hitters, like we need to make runs. When you score, the inning is a little longer.”

Right-hander Derek Law replaced Irvin in the ninth, carrying an American flag with him in the bullpen cart. He pitched a scoreless ninth to convert the save, his first of the season, and help the Nats (41-46) to their second straight win.

One hit was all the Mets (42-43) could manage. There were only six between the two teams.

It was a disappointing loss considering how close the score was. The Mets were only one pitch away from winning the third game of the series before a bullpen implosion, adding even more disappointment. There was a chance to gain ground in the NL Wild Card race, and the Mets made some, but not much.

“It happens,” Mendoza said. “Just got to turn the page and be ready for another series.”

The next series features an NL Rookie of the Year candidate in Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Paul Skenes. The Mets head to Pittsburgh for four games at PNC Park, with Skenes facing right-hander Luis Severino Friday night.