It was a long afternoon early on for young phenom Stephen Strasburg  –  a 37-pitch first inning will do that to you.

Strasburg was bringing it at 97-98 MPH, but 3 walks, a stolen base and an error sandwiched around a Jason Bay double gave the Mets an early run and lead.  The Mets were intent on driving Strasburg’s pitch count up early, and helped out by the pitcher’s wildness, they succeeded.  Strasburg was gone by the 5th inning, trailing 2-0.  He actually had three 1-2-3 innings in which he threw a total of just 33 pitches  –  but the other two innings were nightmares.

It took 63 pitches to navigate the 1st and 3rd  –  the other Met run coming across on catcher Josh Thole’s sharp two-out single back up the middle in the third inning.  Strasburd ended up throwing 96 pitches, allowing 4 hits, walking 3 while striking out 5  –  his lowest total in 6 starts.  The Nationals don’t score as a team period  –  they’re 12th out of 16 teams in runs scored in the N.L.  But over the last two weeks they’ve averaged just 2 1/2 runs per game, and it’s worse when Strasburg pitches.  In his last four starts while Strasburg is in the game  –  covering 24 1/3 innings  -Washington has scored only 1 run.

The more impressive pitcher on the day  –  outside of R.A. Dickey  –  was Washington reliever Drew Storen, another Nationals’ first-round pick out of Stanford.  Storen threw two perfect innings, strikng out 3.  Storen has made 21 appearances, has a 2-1 record with a 1.59 ERA, and has really turned around the fortunes of the Nationals’ bullpen.  Since Storen’s call-up on May 17 from Syracuse, The Nationals have the best bullpen ERA in the N.L. at 2.53  –  and rank 2nd in all of baseball  –  only Texas at 2.49 is better.  Pretty impressive.  By the way, Storen is an accomplished hitter as well, and his batting coach when he was a youngster?  None other than Mets 1B coach Razor Shines.

It’s looking less certain that Carlos Beltran will join the Mets prior to the All-Star break, but there’s still a possibility.  The team is being extra cautious as you might expect, and a lot will depend on whether the steady progress he’s been showing continues.  Beltran hopes to play back-to-back 9 inning games this weekend, and then be re-examined.  Here’s a suggestion, providing Beltran is deemed ready over the next 2-3 days.  Bring him to CitiField and start him on Wednesday against Cincinnati.  The next day is an off day and he rests.  Then start him on Friday vs. Atlanta, rest him again on Saturday, and bring him back on Sunday, the final game before the break.  That allows both Beltran and his teammates to get used to each other before embarking on a crucial West Coast road trip right after the All-Star game, and Beltran can get up to speed and measure where he is on the major-league level before heading west.  That trip is a killer  –  11 games in 3 cities (4 in San Francisco, 3 in Arizona, and 4 vs. the L.A. Dodgers) with no off-days.  The Mets are a better road team now than they were before, but they’re still sub-.500 away from CitiField.

Well, forget that “better road team now” nonsense and cue another body blow to the solar plexus.  The Mets did so many things right on Saturday, to driving Strasburg’s pitch count up and getting him out after 5 innings, to not losing the lead in the 6th inning, to putting a 3-spot up in the 8th, it’s a crime to have it end in their 10th walk-off loss of the season.  But there are always reasons for defeats  –  Bobby Parnell, who has been quite effective since his return, allowed a two-out single to Adam Kennedy to surrender an 8th-inning run that got the Nationals back to two runs down  –  the Mets had 2 on and no outs in the top of the 9th and could not push across an insurance run  –  and Frankie Rodriguez blew his 4th save of the year in a terrible performance to gift wrap a win for Washington.  Manager Jerry Manuel on what he believes is bedeviling K-Rod, who has been a high-wire act a good part of this year.

Rodriguez faced 9 batters over the last 2 games at Nationals Park and 8 reached base.  Friday night he allowed two singles and then picked Roger Bernadina off second for his only out, picking up his 19th save.  Then Saturday, he gave up 3 hits, walked 3, one intentionally, and recorded his only out by getting Nyjer Morgan to ground out.  Brutal.

This had a chance to be a “plus” road trip, even after losing the first two games in Puerto Rico.  But now the Mets need a win in the final game to avoid a 2-5 disaster and restore some balance before winding up the first half against two first-place teams (Cincinnati and Atlanta) back at CitiField.

C U soon                                                                    Eddie C.

Watch & Listen LIVE