Stephen Strasburg gave a sneaky grin and a confident "yeah" when asked whether he was being more aggressive on the mound. He knew what the question was in reference to, and he appeared to have been waiting five days to answer it.
After the righty's previous start, manager Davey Johnsons said, "He really doesn't know who he is at times." Strasburg knew who he was Wednesday all right:
The 24-year-old ace struck out 11 in seven innings, Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa hit consecutive homers and the Washington Nationals completed a sweep of the free-falling New York Mets with a 5-2 victory.
"Once the lights are on and you're facing another team, you want to go out there to make your stuff really dirty," Strasburg said. "It's something where I think when I take a step back and relax and let it happen instead of forcing the issue it helps out."
Adam LaRoche hit a two-run homer for a second straight day, and Espinosa doubled and scored on one of the Mets' two errors in the Nationals' fifth win in a row. The team with the NL's best record (58-39) has won seven of 10.
Johnson said Strasburg "doesn't trust his stuff" after he gave up four runs in the sixth inning of his prior start — the game in which the Braves rallied in the rain from a 9-0 deficit to beat the Nationals 11-10 in 11 innings. Strasburg was in command this time.
Strasburg (11-4) struck out five in a row and gave up four hits in matching his career best for innings, done seven times.
"That's him, that's the way he should pitch. He was very pitch efficient from the get-go. He went right after guys," Johnson said. "He's still learning how to pitch in this league. ... He's still a work in progress."
Ike Davis homered for New York in the finale of an 0-6 homestand.
"Since they kicked me out of town, I like coming in for the sweep," Johnson said of being fired by the Mets in 1990.
The Mets' 1-11 slide after the All-Star break is approaching their record for futility to start the second half. The only team worse in club history was its first. The 1962 Mets won just one of their first 15 games and set a record for losses with a 40-120 record.
"We're going to get through it. You will see a different team in the next 10 days, the next two weeks," manager Terry Collins said. "We're through making excuses."
After the game, the Mets called up catcher Rob Johnson from Triple-A Buffalo and sent down catcher Mike Nickeas. Johnson was Matt Harvey's batterymate in Buffalo, and the team's top prospect is set to make his major league debut Thursday in Arizona.
These Mets went into the All-Star break 46-40 and optimistic they would compete for one of two NL wild-card spots. But injuries to ace Johan Santana and Dillon Gee and an offense that has stalled has New York fading fast. The Mets have lost 12 games in a span of 13 for first time since 2004.
Facing Strasburg didn't help the slump.
Other than allowing Davis' blistering line drive into the right field stands on the first pitch of the second inning and Daniel Murphy's single in the next at-bat, Strasburg allowed only Josh Thole's ground-rule double in the fifth and Jordany Valdespin's single in the sixth.
Strasburg reached double digits in strikeouts for the fourth time this season and seventh of his young career, striking out David Wright three times. On the last K, a frustrated Wright tossed all his equipment.
Wright grounded out with runners on second and third against reliever Drew Storen to end the eighth. The Mets had scored a run on Valdespin's grounder after walking the bases loaded.
"Losing is one thing,' Wright said. "the way that we're going about it right now is unacceptable."
Tyler Clippard, the Nationals' fifth reliever, pitched a perfect ninth for his 18 save in 20 chances since taking over the closer role in May.
Strasaburg reached 97 mph on the scoreboard radar, and had at least one strikeout in each inning but the second. He fanned five in a row beginning with Valdespin to start the third.
His command was "perfect," catcher Sandy Leon said. "Today was perfect."
The big right-hander has 25 Ks in 18 innings against the Mets in his career.
Starting for Santana, Jeremy Hefner (1-4) labored through six innings, but gave the Mets a chance by working out of several jams. He gave up six hits and three runs — two earned — in his fourth big league start. Hefner struck out seven and walked two.
Heffner put runners on in each inning but the fifth. Morse led off the second with an opposite field drive into the lower deck in right. Espinosa then pulled one halfway up the overhanging upper deck in right field to extend his hitting streak to 11 games.
Davis quickly got a run back in the bottom half with his 16th homer.
Espinosa doubled and scored in the fourth when he broke for home on Leon's soft grounder to Davis, who fielded the ball on the grass in front of first base. Davis' throw was on the mark but cacther Josh Thole could not hold onto the throw to tag the sliding Espinosa. Thole was given an error and the Nationals led 3-1.
La Roche hit a long drive to right field in the seventh off Tim Byrdak an out after Bryce Harper walked for a 5-1 lead.
NOTES: Mets closer Frank Francisco (knee) allowed one run and three hits in two-thirds of an inning during a rehabilitation appearance with Double-A Binghamton on Wednesday. ... Nationals OF Jayson Werth (broken wrist) played five innings in a rehab start for Triple-A Syracuse. He went 0 for 3. ... Washington is 9-3 against New York this season.