During his two-hitter Friday night at Citi Field, Jacob deGrom faced 29 batters and struck out more than half of them, keeping his fielders out of the equation about as much as any pitcher can. As the theory goes, Mets defenders — the subject of near-constant criticism over the past week (and, more rightly, the past decade or so) — can’t be an issue if they aren’t touching the baseball.
Less than 24 hours later, the Mets demonstrated the dangers of what happens when they do. By the third inning, New York fielders had already committed three notable blunders behind Marcus Stroman, who could not limit the resulting damage in a 7-1 loss to the Nationals on Saturday.
“I don’t think we’re in a defensive slump,” manager Luis Rojas said. “[Friday] we played a pretty good game defensively, and I think overall today, we were on our toes to make the plays as well. … I think the guys are feeling pretty good about themselves on how prepared they are to play defense behind the pitchers.”
The most overt misplay occurred on the second pitch of the game, when Josh Harrison lined a single to right. Caught in between trying to catch the ball on the fly or play it on a hop, Michael Conforto pulled up short, stabbed at the ball, then watched it scoot several dozen yards behind him to the wall. As Conforto sprinted after the baseball, Harrison raced around to third base, allowing him to score easily on a Yadiel Hernandez sacrifice fly.
“I think I got a little aggressive going to try to maybe catch it,” Conforto said. “He really got inside it and it was kind of tailing away from me. Had I stayed back on it, I probably keep that ball in front of me, but I just got a little too close to it.”
More defensive problems would follow. With two men on base in the second inning, pitcher Joe Ross hit a single to right, where Conforto corralled it and fired home. His throw was not only offline, but needed two hops to reach home plate, which allowed Starlin Castro to score with relative ease. Then, in the third, Hernandez hit a line drive to left field, where Dominic Smith put himself in position to catch the ball, only to have it glance off his glove and fall to the turf.