Another strong performance from the veteran knuckleballer could prevent New York from falling even further back in the standings.
Dickey tries for a 12th consecutive winning decision and Gonzalez looks to rebound from his ugliest outing of the year Tuesday night as the slumping Mets continue a three-game set with the NL East-leading Washington Nationals , who won't have Ian Desmond available after placing him on the disabled list.
While Dickey (13-1, 2.84 ERA) has cooled off quite a bit since going 9-0 with a 1.21 ERA over an 11-start stretch April 25-June 18, he came up big during Thursday's 9-5 win at Nationals Park. The right-hander allowed 10 hits but was able to limit the damage, yielding three earned runs over 7 1-3 innings to improve to 2-0 despite a 4.86 ERA over his last five starts.
"I haven't pitched as well as I have in that streak. That's hard to expect," said Dickey, who also allowed a two-run homer during an inning of relief in Saturday's 8-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers .
"You have to have a lot of cooperation. Recently, I've just been so-so. Hopefully, I get a second wind here."
The Mets (47-49) may feel like they're facing a head wind. New York has compiled a 6.41 ERA while dropping 10 of 11 - including a 1-9 record since the Midsummer Classic.
The Mets were handed their seventh loss in their last nine meetings with Washington on Monday, falling 8-2 in 10 innings. After hitting a two-run homer in the first inning, Bryce Harper singled home the go-ahead run in the 10th before Ryan Zimmerman broke the game open with a three-run double. Michael Morse followed that with a two-run home run.
Winners of three in a row overall and seven of eight at Citi Field, the Nationals (56-39) now sit 9 1/2 games ahead of the third-place Mets.
"Coming to New York, all the fans love their teams, you just try to come in here and play it like another team," Harper said.
Though they've been playing well, the Nationals know overcoming Desmond's absence won't be easy. The All-Star shortstop, who leads the team with 17 homers, tried to play through an oblique injury but was placed on the 15-day DL on Monday after an MRI showed a tear on his left side.
"He's been our MVP all year," utility man Mark DeRosa told the team's official website. "Big hit after big hit. He's basically been the captain of our infield for all of the first half of the season. So to lose him is tough."
The Nationals now turn to Gonzalez (12-5, 3.32), who's been a bit shaky lately. The left-hander went 7-1 with a 2.04 ERA over his first 10 starts but has since posted a 5-4 record with a 4.93 mark in nine outings.
Gonzalez struggled mightily opposite Dickey on Thursday, surrendering a season-high six runs along with six hits and three walks over 3 1-3 innings in his shortest appearance of the year.
"Just felt a little flat," Gonzalez said. "Nothing was moving too much. They did a great job attacking me right off the bat. They were swinging aggressively and going after me right off the bat. Make better pitches, get better outs.
"You gotta learn you're gonna hit some patches once in a while."
Dickey has more than held his own in this series since the start of 2010, going 4-3 with a 2.80 ERA over 10 starts. Danny Espinosa is 1 for 17 in their matchups while Harper's gone 0 for 7.
|July 23, 2012||Ian Desmond||15-Day DL||Torn left oblique|
|July 18, 2012||Jhonatan Solano||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|July 01, 2012||Chien-Ming Wang||15-Day DL||Strained right hip|
|June 30, 2012||Stephen Strasburg||Day-to-Day||Left game - heat exhaustion|
|June 24, 2012||Xavier Nady||15-Day DL||Right wrist tendinitis|
|June 24, 2012||Xavier Nady||15-Day DL||Right wrist tendinitis|
|New York Mets|
|July 21, 2012||Johan Santana||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|July 11, 2012||Dillon Gee||Day-to-Day||Bloot clot in right shoulder|
|July 08, 2012||Dillon Gee||15-Day DL||Blood clot in right shoulder|
|July 03, 2012||Kirk Nieuwenhuis||Day-to-Day||Bruised right hand|
|June 23, 2012||Frank Francisco||15-Day DL||Left oblique strain|
|June 16, 2012||Jason Bay||15-Day DL||Concussion|
NEW YORK (AP) -- Adam LaRoche grabbed a different bat and suddenly solved the enigma of R.A. Dickey.
LaRoche hit a tiebreaking homer and the Washington Nationals handed Dickey his first loss in three months, beating the sinking New York Mets 5-2 Tuesday night behind Gio Gonzalez 's seven crisp innings.
At the suggestion of injured teammate Ian Desmond , LaRoche switched bats in the sixth to a lighter model that belonged to speedy outfielder Roger Bernadina .
"I've been using a heavier bat and obviously it hasn't been working against Dickey, so I figured it was time to try something new," said LaRoche, who was 2 for 14 against the knuckleballer before his long home run.
Gonzalez (13-5) gave up only two singles in a rematch of All-Star pitchers, five days after New York hit him hard to back Dickey during his 13th win.
This time, it went the other way.
"Just wanted to redeem myself from the last start," Gonzalez said. "You always want to bounce back as a pitcher. You don't want to feel down and out. A lot of these guys came up to me and gave me some positive energy, positive feedback. So the best I wanted to do was return the favor."
Dickey (13-2) allowed five consecutive hits in the sixth, ending his 11-game winning streak, as the Mets lost their fifth straight and 11th in 12 games. Their lone victory since July 7 was Dickey's 9-5 win over Gonzalez last Thursday in Washington.
In a mini shake-up before the game, New York demoted slumping right fielder Lucas Duda to the minors.
"When you're not playing good baseball against teams like this, they exploit you pretty quickly," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "This stretch is not going to define us over the course of the year."
Ryan Zimmerman kept up his tear at the plate with three hits and the Nationals won their fourth in a row to improve the NL's best record to 57-39. They are 8-3 against the Mets this season, winning all four series so far, and will go for a three-game sweep Wednesday at noon with ace Stephen Strasburg on the mound against rookie Jeremy Hefner .
"I think we're clicking pretty good," LaRoche said. "It can get better, but it's pretty good right now."
Sean Burnett got three outs in the eighth and Tyler Clippard fanned two in a perfect ninth, finishing the three-hitter for his 17th save. Gonzalez struck out four, walked two and did not allow an earned run in his longest outing since May 27.
"It was a masterpiece," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "He had something to prove."
Jordany Valdespin set a Mets record with his fifth pinch-hit homer of the season. The rookie connected off Ryan Mattheus leading off the eighth, breaking a mark he previously shared with Mark Carreon (1989) and Danny Heep (1983).
Dickey was 11-0 in his previous 16 starts since getting roughed up in a 14-6 loss April 18 on a rainy day in Atlanta. Trying to become the first 14-game winner in the majors, he was unable to stop New York's nasty slide. He yielded five runs - four earned - and eight hits in six innings.
The 37-year-old right-hander tossed an inning of relief Saturday against the Dodgers to help an overworked bullpen, only two days after throwing 111 pitches over 7 1-3 innings in Washington. He has a 5.36 ERA in his last seven outings.
"I had a good knuckleball," Dickey said. "I should have pitched into the eighth inning. I felt too good for that to happen."
Dickey whiffed star rookie Bryce Harper all three times on knuckleballs ranging from 66-81 mph and was in command until the sixth, when he gave up five straight hits with two outs.
Michael Morse singled and LaRoche drove a low knuckler into the upper deck in right, snapping a 1-all tie with his 17th homer. Danny Espinosa singled, Bernadina beat out a slow dribbler toward first and Jesus Flores hit an RBI single to left. Jason Bay 's wide throw to the plate got away for an error that allowed Bernadina to score, making it 5-1.
Espinosa's throwing error at shortstop led to an unearned run in the second. Ronny Cedeno hit an RBI single to right with two outs, giving New York its first lead in 42 innings since last Thursday, but was thrown out by Harper trying to stretch it into a double.
Gonzalez retired his next 11 batters and did not permit another hit until Ike Davis ' two-out single in the seventh.
A switch-hitter, Espinosa batted right-handed against Dickey to get a better look at the knuckleball. The first time up, Espinosa struck out swinging. But in the fourth, his two-out double tied it 1-all after Zimmerman opened the inning with a bloop double.
NOTES: Flores (back) was back behind the plate after sitting out two games. ... Washington is 9-1-3 in series against NL East opponents. ... Harper is 0 for 10 against Dickey with six strikeouts. ... New York released RHP Miguel Batista , designated for assignment Sunday.