Mets lose Taijuan Walker, fall to Braves as NL East lead shrinks

ATLANTA — At least they have got Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom aligned for the next two nights?

The Mets need something to which they can cling for the rest of this series against the Braves, and the presence of their aces — provided they can stay on the mound — serves as comfort food.

On Tuesday, Taijuan Walker’s back spasms necessitated a second straight bullpen game for the Mets, who watched Carlos Carrasco depart early a night earlier. But the lack of offense was the largest culprit for the Mets in a 5-0 loss at Truist Park that sliced ​​their NL East lead on the Braves in 3 ½ games.

Taijuan Walker (left) exits the game with back spasms after two scoreless innings and Jeff McNceil walks back to the dugout after striking out during the Mets' 5-0 loss to the Braves.
Taijuan Walker (left) exits the game with back spasms after two scoreless innings and Jeff McNceil walks back to the dugout after striking out during the Mets’ 5-0 loss to the Braves.
USA TODAY Sports; PA

The Mets have scored only once in the first two games of this series. Perhaps an infusion from No. 2 prospect Brett Baty, who will be selected from Triple-A Syracuse before Wednesday’s game, can help. But the Mets also know they can’t lean too heavily on a 22-year-old third baseman who only recently was promoted to Triple-A.

Walker pitched two scoreless innings, but never emerged from the dugout for the third. The right-hander provided a hint he was in discomfort as he walked gingerly after covering first base to conclude the second inning. Walker said his back tightened after he left the field. He will receive further testing on Wednesday, but said the training staff isn’t too concerned about the ailment.

“I knew my job was to go as deep as possible and try to give the bullpen a break,” Walker said. “I felt like my stuff was good and felt like I would go six-plus innings and it sucks and the timing couldn’t be worse for something like this. A couple of guys just got called up and had to go out and wear it and it’s tough … hopefully we regroup [Wednesday] and kind of ‘next man up’ mentality right now.”

Charlie Morton surrendered three home runs in his previous start against the Mets, but on this night presented a formidable challenge. The veteran right-hander allowed only three hits and struck out 12 over 6 ²/₃ innings, throwing 97 pitches.

“He had every pitch,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “We had to defend every pitch. Very seldom do you see that with that many pitches — curveball, changeup, cutter. He had a little better fastball than he had been carrying. He was also working on six days’ rest so we knew he was going to be firm tonight.”

taijuan walker
taijuan walker
USA TODAY Sports

The Mets managed a semblance of a rally in the seventh inning, when Francisco Lindor singled for his second hit of the game and Daniel Vogelbach walked before Dylan Lee replaced Morton with two outs and struck out Jeff McNeil.

“[Morton] had fewer mistakes than the last time we faced him,” Lindor said.

RJ Alvarez, selected to the roster before the game to provide bullpen depth, replaced Walker to start the third. The appearance was Alvarez’s first in a major league uniform since 2015 with Oakland.

Robbie Grossman blasted a solo homer in the third to give the Braves their first run. In the fourth, Austin Riley walked leading off the inning before Matt Olson crushed a 443-foot homer to right field that placed the Mets in a 3-0 hole. Olson, whose arrival before the season reported Freddie Freeman’s departure, has 25 homers.

Alvarez followed by allowing consecutive singles, but retired the next three batters. He recorded one out in the fifth before he was replaced by Stephen Nogosek.

Dansby Swanson delivered a single in the seventh against Nogosek that Brandon Nimmo misplayed for an error that allowed Ronald Acuña Jr. to score from first. Swanson reached second and scored on Olson’s RBI single that extended the Braves’ lead to 5-0.

Now the Mets will hope Scherzer and deGrom might allow them to leave town with a series split.

“I never assume anything and they are going to be facing two good pitchers on the other side,” Showalter said. “We are going to have to figure out a way to push some runs across … there is no given.”

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