NEW YORK (AP) — Didn’t take long for a refreshed Jay Bruce to get right back in the swing of things.
Bruce hit a two-run homer in his return from an extended stay on the disabled list, Jason Vargas tossed six stellar innings and the New York Mets beat Washington 3-0 on Friday night to hand the Nationals their second consecutive shutout.
“Happy to help. It’s good to be back. It makes you thankful to be here,” Bruce said at his locker, still in full custom uniform with “Bruuuce” written across the back on Players Weekend.
Wilmer Flores had an early RBI single and the Mets got spotless relief work from Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman to finish a four-hitter.
The stingy pitching finally helped New York get the best of a familiar nemesis in Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez (7-11), who has lost nine of his last 10 decisions. The left-hander allowed only one run in seven innings but dropped to 11-2 with a 1.75 ERA at Citi Field and 15-6 against the Mets in his career.
“It’s a beautiful, family-oriented ballpark,” Gonzalez said. “I just have this kind of feel for pitching here.”
Bruce was activated before the game after missing more than two months with a sore right hip, and the Mets plan to audition the veteran outfielder at first base down the stretch. But the three-time All-Star started at his regular spot in right field during his first big league game since June 17 and connected against lefty reliever Tim Collins in the eighth.
The drive to right-center was only the fourth home run this season for Bruce, who batted just .212 with 17 RBIs in 62 games before landing on the DL.
“Little bit of rejuvenation of getting up there, coming back, the lights, the energy, the fans, the balls — you name it, it’s great,” he said.
Featuring a deceptive changeup, Vargas (4-8) permitted three hits and struck out a season-high eight without issuing a walk.
The resurgent lefty, who entered with a 7.67 ERA, has put together two straight wins and three solid starts in a row late in his previously dismal season.
“I’ve been able to keep the ball down in the strike zone for the most part, and I think that usually leads to more success for me,” he said.
Vargas fanned Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and rookie slugger Juan Soto, the 3-4-5 batters in Washington’s lineup, in the fourth — part of six strikeouts in a span of seven hitters.
“We were just chasing a lot of pitches down,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “When we face a guy that throws a good changeup, left-handed, we struggle against that.”
Lugo threw two perfect innings, striking out three, and Gsellman closed for his eighth save . After a one-out double by Anthony Rendon in the ninth, Gsellman struck out Harper and retired Zimmerman on a game-ending grounder.
Washington (64-65) was blanked 2-0 on Thursday by All-Star ace Aaron Nola and the Phillies. The Nationals have lost eight of 12 and been shut out 13 times this season, third-most in the majors.
“We have to start putting the ball in play and scoring some runs,” Martinez said.
The jagged barrel of Harper’s broken bat went flying six or seven rows into the stands behind New York’s dugout in the first inning. With two young boys sitting next to him, perhaps in real danger, a man wearing a Mets jersey reached up and protected them by knocking away the sharp-edged lumber . It appeared nobody got hurt.
Nationals: Gonzalez got hit on the left ankle by a line drive in the sixth. Twice he was checked by a trainer and Martinez, but a limping, grimacing Gonzalez stayed in the game. “It was a little tender. I was just thinking the whole time, just have to finish this inning, have to finish this inning,” he said. “I won’t quite feel the result of it until tomorrow. ... If it wasn’t for the padding on the cleat, would have been worse.” ... Stephen Strasburg said he felt good after throwing about 40 pitches in a bullpen session, Martinez said, and the right-hander remains scheduled to make his next start. After missing a month with a pinched nerve in his neck, Strasburg returned Wednesday and lasted four innings against Philadelphia. ... Washington closer Sean Doolittle (left toe inflammation) threw on flat ground again and felt pretty good, Martinez said.
Mets: David Wright went 1 for 4 with a single in his ninth rehab game for Class A St. Lucie. He had two assists and a putout in nine innings at third base. The Mets’ captain, who hasn’t appeared in the majors since May 2016 because of back and shoulder injuries, is hitting .143 (4 for 28). ... C Devin Mesoraco sat out with neck stiffness. New York manager Mickey Callaway said Mesoraco had an MRI that revealed only muscular issues, so he won’t need to go on the DL and he could catch in a pinch.
Washington RHP Tanner Roark (8-12, 4.05 ERA) faces Mets RHP Zack Wheeler (8-6, 3.63) on Saturday afternoon. Roark is 5-0 with a 1.63 ERA in his past six starts. Wheeler, who beat the Nationals at home on July 14, is 6-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his last seven outings.