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Nationals, with a strong hint of Class AAA Rochester, get rocked by Mets

Nationals center fielder Victor Robles watches Pete Alonso's two-run homer clear the wall at Nationals Park during Wednesday's 9-5 win for the Mets. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Josh Palacios, Ildemaro Vargas and Joey Meneses weren’t on the Washington Nationals’ roster Sunday; that day, the trio made up the top three spots in the batting order for the Rochester Red Wings, the Nationals’ Class AAA affiliate.

Three days later, on a steamy Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park, they started for the home team in a 9-5 loss to the New York Mets. Meneses, a first baseman playing his second game in the majors, hit in the cleanup spot after blasting a home run in his debut the night before. Palacios batted eighth and manned right field, the real estate occupied by Juan Soto as recently as two days ago. Vargas followed Palacios and handled third.

Vargas singled in all four of his at-bats and Palacios added a pair of singles. Meneses went 0 for 4. The Nationals scored five runs in the ninth, but eight flat innings prior served as a reminder of how painful Washington’s rebuild could look in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s trade of Soto and Josh Bell to the San Diego Padres.

The Nationals — who dropped to 36-70 and 31 games back of the first-place Mets (66-38) — acquired six players in return, a large bet on potential. But a day after that seismic trade, none of those players were ready to make immediate contributions.

The vibes in the post-Juan Soto clubhouse? They’re ‘going to be weird.’

“They’re not going to quit. They’re going to play through the last out, and we end up scoring five runs,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “We made it exciting at the end, but obviously it wasn’t enough.”

Luke Voit figures to be the player who makes an impact the soonest. He and left-hander MacKenzie Gore will join the team in Philadelphia on Thursday. Gore, 23, is on the 15-day injured list with elbow inflammation in his throwing arm; General Manager Mike Rizzo said Tuesday that the team would take it slow with Gore when he arrives.

Voit will be a middle-of-the-order bat; he has 13 home runs this season. That’s three more than Lane Thomas, who leads the team in homers after the departures of Soto (21) and Bell (14). Voit will play first base and designated hitter. Nelson Cruz, the DH for most of the season, missed Wednesday’s game with neck stiffness and was replaced by Yadiel Hernandez.

Infielder C.J. Abrams, 21, is the closest to the majors outside of Voit and Gore; he played 46 games for the Padres this season. Martinez said the Nationals want him to go to Rochester, where he can acclimate to the East Coast and get some at-bats — as the team did with Keibert Ruiz after last year’s deadline.

Svrluga: The Juan Soto deal is heartbreaking. Now the hope can begin.

The prospects with perhaps the most upside are still a ways away. Outfielder Robert Hassell III, 20, now the Nationals’ No. 1 prospect according to MLB.com, will head to high Class A Wilmington. Outfielder James Wood, 19 and No. 4 on the prospect list, was assigned to Class A Fredericksburg. Jarlin Susana, an 18-year-old pitcher and now the team’s No. 8 prospect, will head to the Florida Complex League before joining Wood in Fredericksburg.

The blockbuster trade brightened the Nationals’ future, but it did little for their present against Mets starter Chris Bassitt, who pitched seven scoreless innings.

The offense looked lifeless until Ruiz and Thomas hit solo homers in the ninth. Then, with two outs, Victor Robles added an RBI single and Luis García hit a two-run single before Hernandez flied out to end it.

“That last inning, they really started using the middle of the field,” Martinez said. “If we could’ve done that earlier, things would’ve been a little different.”

How did the Mets score? Pete Alonso hit a two-run, two-out homer off Aníbal Sánchez in the third inning. Sánchez lasted 4⅓ innings and allowed five runs (four earned), raising his ERA to 7.65 in four starts — all losses.

Sánchez didn’t get any help from Vargas in the fifth; the third baseman dropped a line drive by Starling Marte while trying to transfer the ball from his glove to his throwing hand. Then he threw the ball into right field for an error, allowing the runners to advance to second and third.

Francisco Lindor popped out, and Martinez had Alonso intentionally walked to load the bases for Daniel Vogelbach. Martinez pulled Sánchez in favor of Jordan Weems, who left a 2-2 fastball over the inside part of the plate that Vogelbach sent out to right for a grand slam that pushed the Mets’ lead to 6-0.

The Mets scored two more runs off Weems in the sixth when Tomás Nido hit an RBI double and Marte hit into a fielder’s choice that scored Nido. Luis Guillorme added a run-scoring fielder’s choice in the ninth off Hunter Harvey.

Juan Soto starts first day of the rest of his baseball life with Padres

What’s the latest on Tanner Rainey? Rainey had Tommy John surgery Wednesday. Martinez didn’t have any updates on how the surgery went before the game or a timetable for when Rainey would return, but typically the recovery time is around 12 months. Martinez expects Rainey to come back to Washington to check in with team doctors during the Nationals’ next homestand.

Rainey, 29, was placed on the 60-day injured list July 13 with an ulnar collateral ligament sprain. He had a team-high 12 saves to go with a 3.30 ERA.

How did the Nationals honor Vin Scully? Before the game, Washington played some of Scully’s calls on the video board. Then the Nationals held a moment of silence, flashing his name with a microphone under it. The legendary Dodgers broadcaster died Tuesday at 94.

Have we seen the last of Alcides Escobar? In a Nationals uniform, quite likely. The team requested unconditional release waivers on him after the game. The move clears an active roster spot for Voit, who is expected to join the roster Thursday. Escobar was the everyday shortstop until late May, when he suffered a hamstring injury. He accepted a backup role behind García when he returned but appeared in only seven games — including two pitching appearances — from there. The 35-year-old had a .218 batting average in 40 games.

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