Conforto ‘wanted Strasburg,’ homers in Mets’ 8-2 win at Nats
WASHINGTON (AP) — Michael Conforto got exactly what he wanted. So did the New York Mets.
In his first regular-season game since August, Conforto came off the disabled list to hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer off Stephen Strasburg, Yoenis Cespedes also went deep against the ace, and Jay Bruce tacked on an insurance grand slam, leading the Mets to an 8-2 victory over Washington in the Nationals’ home opener Thursday.
When new Mets manager Mickey Callaway was asked beforehand about throwing Conforto in against one of the NL’s premier pitchers instead of giving him a minor league rehab assignment, this was the reply: “He wanted Strasburg.”
“As a competitor, you want to go up against the best. They don’t get much better than him,” said Conforto, a 2017 NL All-Star who had surgery on his left shoulder in September. “If we’re starting there, then we should be OK.”
Conforto struck out on three pitches leading off the game, then grounded into a double play in the third inning. And his third AB? With two outs in the fifth, he drove a 97 mph pitch out to left. It was originally ruled that the ball remained in the field of play, so Conforto stopped at second; after a replay review, it was changed to a homer.
Bruce joked about the Mets’ center fielder and leadoff hitter: “His first two at-bats were his rehab. And his third at-bat, he was ready.”
Bruce’s sixth career grand slam, and first homer of 2018, came off Brandon Kintzler in the seventh.
The Mets improved to an NL East-leading 5-1, while the two-time reigning division champion Nationals have lost three in a row after a 4-0 start under rookie manager Dave Martinez.
“Everybody’s in a really good spot, confidence-wise,” Callaway said. “We’re playing the game the right way, and it’s just fun to see.”
Jacob deGrom (2-0) wiggled out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam to finish his six-inning outing with a flourish. After walking Bryce Harper to fill the bags, deGrom got Ryan Zimmerman to fly out to shallow right and Howie Kendrick to line out to shortstop, before Trea Turner looked at a 94 mph fastball for strike three.
Turner argued and was ejected for the first time in the majors.
“I felt like that was a big spot in the game. It kind of turned after that,” Turner said. “Unfortunately, I had the bat taken out of my hands there.”
Before a sellout crowd of 42,477 that braved a first-pitch temperature of 42 degrees just past 1 p.m., Strasburg (1-1) gave up four runs in six eventful innings. He balked in a run in the second, then allowed Cespedes’ solo shot that tied it 2-2 in the fourth.
“I definitely want two pitches back,” Strasburg said. “I know mistakes were made and I paid the price for it. Sometimes you get away with them. But this time, I didn’t.”
Washington 1B Zimmerman, who only got two at-bats in spring training, went 0 for 4 on Thursday and is 3 for 22 (.136) with six strikeouts this season. “Spring training is over,” Zimmerman said. “I’d rather not talk about that whole thing any more. You guys can write about it if you want.”
Mets: To make room for Conforto, activated off the DL before the game, the Mets optioned INF Phillip Evans to Triple-A Las Vegas.
Nationals: LF Adam Eaton tweaked his left ankle while scoring from first on Anthony Rendon’s double in the third, then left after the fifth as a precaution. Martinez said X-rays did not reveal structural damage to the ankle, which he sprained on the same play he tore knee ligaments in April 2017, ending his season. Eaton said he thinks he’ll need a day or two off but does not expect to go on the DL.
RIZZO’S NEW DEAL
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo was given a two-year contract extension, tying him to the team through 2020.
After Friday’s day off, a pair of lefties are slated to match up Saturday in the second game of this series, with Washington’s Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 1.50 ERA) facing New York’s Steven Matz (0-1, 6.75). The weather could be a problem, though: The forecast calls for snow — yes, snow, on April 7.
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