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WSH@NYM: Wheeler fans six through six solid innings

NEW YORK -- Glum faces trudged off the field at the end of the Mets' 8-2 loss to the Nationals on an otherwise bright, sunny, even cheerful afternoon at Citi Field. The Nationals had thoroughly undressed the Mets in a three-game, season-opening series sweep, and few in the home dugout escaped blame.

Fingers pointed to Daniel Murphy, who committed two errors in his season debut after a two-game paternity leave absence. And to Zack Wheeler, whose quality start -- like Bartolo Colon's the night before -- was not quite quality enough. They pointed to a bullpen that kept on giving gifts, and to the trio of Eric Young, Jr., Travis d'Arnaud and Lucas Duda, all of whom remained hitless on the season.

Whatever bright spots pockmarked the day -- Curtis Granderson's two-double game, for example -- were overshadowed by all that went wrong. The Mets are now 0-3 heading into series against playoff teams in Cincinnati and Atlanta, and -- if 90 wins is still the goal, as general manager Sandy Alderson espoused on Monday -- must find a way to reverse course.

"We'll catch the ball better," manager Terry Collins said. "To be honest, we're a lot better team defensively, we're a lot better team offensively than we're seeing right now. It's three days, and certainly it leaves a sour taste in your mouth when you start out the season like this, but I can remember a few teams that ended up being pretty good that got off to slow starts."

Thursday's loss was not much different than the two that preceded it. The Mets received an adequate starting pitching performance, this time from Wheeler, who struck out six and allowed three runs in six innings. Relying on a new four-seam changeup that offers more depth than his previous two-seam offering, Wheeler in particular flummoxed Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond, three of Washington's more accomplished hitters. But the offense did not score enough to back him, and as soon as Wheeler left the game, the Nationals ambushed New York's bullpen for a four-run seventh inning.

"It all starts with me though, giving up the three runs," Wheeler said. "I should have done better."

After Scott Rice gave up singles to two of the three batters he faced, Jeurys Familia entered and walked Jayson Werth to load the bases. That brought up LaRoche, whose two-run single scorched past Duda and into right field, plating two runs. Ryan Zimmerman followed with an RBI single -- his fourth hit of the day, including a booming solo homer off Wheeler in the second -- to put the game even further out of reach. An inning later, Carlos Torres walked in yet another run.

For the third straight game, the Mets had actually taken an early lead, scoring twice off rotation sub Tanner Roark. A last-minute replacement for Jordan Zimmermann, whom the Nats scratched with flu-like symptoms, Roark allowed singles to Murphy and David Wright with one out in the first, then gave up an RBI double to Granderson and a sacrifice fly to Juan Lagares. But the right-hander settled down noticeably after that, retiring six straight at one point and striking out the final four batters he faced.

Roark lasted six innings in total, striking out five and allowing six hits.

"It was a rough first inning for Tanner, but he settled in nicely," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "It was easy to have everything snowball right there, but he stopped it and gave us a chance, which is great."

And so the Mets, who have typically shot out to hot starts in Collins' otherwise losing tenure as manager, fell to 0-3 on the year. Not only are they the National League's only winless team, but they have shown precious few signs of life in their three games, scoring 10 runs to Washington's 22. Over the final 22 innings of the series, the Nationals outscored the Mets, 20-6.

Still, it was a relatively upbeat Collins that offered a similar message after the game: that it's early, that he's not too worried, that the Mets are better than what they have shown.

All that matters now is that they start showing it.

"We've just got to keep coming right now," Murphy said. "We don't want to continue to lose baseball games, but we'll wash this series. We'll learn from it."

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