Jake Irvin’s mistakes cost the Nationals a 7-5 loss to the Mets

NEW YORK — One of Dave Martinez’s biggest pet peeves: when a pitcher records the first two outs of an inning and then walks the third batter. This concern has been less frequent for the manager this season; the Washington Nationals’ pitching renaissance arose from a focus on attacking the strike zone.

But on Tuesday night at Citi Field, Jake Irvin’s brief lapse in concentration turned into a painful second inning during a 7-5 loss to the New York Mets that opened a three-game series.

Irvin recorded the first two outs of the second inning, then walked Jeff McNeil — the Mets’ eighth hitter — on five pitches. It wasn’t a big deal until Harrison Bader and Francisco Lindor singled to give the Mets a 1-0 lead. Two pitches later, Brandon Nimmo hit a three-run homer to the opposite field. A harmless two-out walk had turned into a four-run inning.

“My job is to keep players off the bases,” Irvin said. “And walking players with two outs is unacceptable.”

On the home run, rookie left fielder James Wood took a few steps back and looked ready to settle under a fly ball. But he kept backing up as the ball continued to fly and eventually cleared the fence. According to Baseball Savant, it would have been a home run in only 14 of MLB’s 30 parks.

Irvin lasted six innings and allowed six runs, all with two outs. (The Mets added a run against Jordan Weems in the eighth.) The 27-year-old was an All-Star candidate who has impressed throughout his second MLB season, but Tuesday’s poor outing boosted his ERA to 3.13 as he matched the most runs he’s allowed this season. His other six-run outing came April 24 in a loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were his opponent for the second straight start.

Irvin faced the same scenario on Tuesday. On Thursday at Nationals Park, he pitched eight innings of one-hit ball and struck out eight in a 1-0 win over the Mets. Jose Quintana faced him that day and pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits.

Quintana was even better Tuesday, allowing one hit in seven innings and striking out five. He retired batters in order in six innings. The only time he didn’t was in the third, when Luis Garcia Jr. led off the inning with a single to center and advanced to second on Bader’s error. A hit-by-pitch and walk loaded the bases with two outs for Wood, who grounded out on the first pitch.

“He didn’t miss in the middle,” catcher Keibert Ruiz said of Quintana. “He just attacked the bottom of the zone. His breaking ball was good when he fell behind in the count.”

When Quintana exited, the Nationals (42-50), who have lost three straight, found some life. Garcia’s double greeted reliever Adam Ottavino in the eighth, then pinch-hitter Ildemaro Vargas hit his first homer of the season. In the ninth against Reed Garrett, Juan Yepez doubled before Ruiz added a long, two-run shot to make it 7-4. A two-out walk to Jacob Young forced the Mets (45-45) to bring in closer Edwin Diaz, whose wild pitch allowed Young to score from second base before striking out All-Star CJ Abrams to end the game.

After Nimmo’s homer, Irvin settled in by retiring the next six batters. In last week’s matchup, he relied heavily on his curveball (40 pitches) and fastball (38), mixing in 18 sinkers, two cutters and a slider. But on Tuesday, his game plan was different: He threw 31 sinkers, 30 curveballs and 29 fastballs (plus three changeups and a cutter).

“He wasn’t that accurate,” Martinez said. “His breaking ball wasn’t that accurate. He fell behind a couple of hitters, made some mistakes just because of location. Overall, he gave us some innings that we needed. It’s just one of those days.”

In the sixth, Irvin faced the same problem he had in the second. He recorded the first two outs, but this time allowed a single to Bader to put the order at the top of the order. Lindor crushed a 2-1 fastball that Irvin left in the middle of the plate for a two-run homer. The lights at Citi Field flashed blue and orange as Irvin turned to the home-plate umpire and called for another ball.

“He’s been a workhorse for us, so it’s one game,” Martinez said. “He’s got one more start before the All-Star break. He’ll lock himself in and compete again.”

Grades: Joey Gallo has not been cleared to run the bases, but is participating in light baseball activities nearly a month after suffering a left hamstring injury. Over the weekend, Gallo fielded ground balls at first base. On Tuesday, he swung in batting practice. …

Right-hander Trevor Williams continues to recover from a right flexor strain that has sidelined him since early June. He’s throwing from 60 feet, but he still has a ways to go until he can pitch off a mound. Gallo and Williams began the season as potential trade candidates, but their injuries make it unlikely they’ll get much, if anything, in return with the July 30 trade deadline approaching.

Left-hander Jose A. Ferrer is scheduled to pitch Tuesday for Class AA Harrisburg while recovering from a left shoulder strain. After that, he and right-hander Cade Cavalli (having Tommy John surgery) will head to Florida to pitch through the All-Star break.