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Mets' Syndergaard returns against Nationals

NEW YORK -- Six months ago, the concept of the New York Mets using both Noah Syndergaard and Matt Harvey in the same September game against the Washington Nationals would have conjured up thoughts of the Mets pulling out all the stops to win a pivotal late-season clash against their fiercest division rivals.

Instead, the sight of Syndergaard and Harvey "piggybacking" against the Nationals and Stephen Strasburg will serve as yet another reminder of how far off the rails the Mets' season has gone.

Syndergaard will make his first major league start in almost five months Saturday night, when the Mets host the National League East champion Nationals in the middle game of a three-game series at Citi Field.

The Mets won the opener Friday by coming back from a five-run deficit to earn a 7-6 victory.

Syndergaard (1-2, 3.29 ERA) will only pitch the first inning against Strasburg (14-4, 2.60 ERA), who is looking to win his fifth straight start. Harvey, whose first 99 big league appearances all came as a starter, will enter in the second inning.

The appearance Saturday will only be the third in an official game for Syndergaard since he was injured while giving up five runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Nationals on Apr. 30. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed three runs over three innings during a pair of rehab appearances for the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Mets and Class-A Brooklyn earlier this month. Syndergaard later threw a pair of bullpen sessions and a 39-pitch simulated game.

While the Mets (66-87) have been playing out the string for months, general manager Sandy Alderson said Friday pitching Syndergaard, even briefly in an otherwise meaningless game, could provide peace of mind for everyone involved heading into 2018.

"We just want to get him back on the mound, if for only a moment, relatively, before the season ends," Alderson said. "So that he's back out there, is re-familiarizing himself with the circumstances and the fact that he's in a big-league game and he goes into the offseason with a little bit of additional confidence."

Confidence is in increasingly short supply for Harvey, who took the loss Monday after giving up seven runs over four innings as the Mets fell to the Miami Marlins, 13-1. Harvey is 1/3 with a 13.19 ERA in four starts since he was activated from the disabled list Sept. 2, but Alderson and manager Terry Collins said Friday they've seen incremental signs of improvement from Harvey, whose fastball was clocked at 96 mph against the Marlins.

There's been no need for the Nationals (92-61) to dig for positive signs about Strasburg, who earned the win last Sunday after allowing one run over six innings as Washington beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-1. The run he surrendered in the second inning snapped a franchise-record 35-inning scoreless streak for Strasburg, who has lowered his overall ERA from 3.10 to 2.60 over his last five starts.

"'Stras' was awesome," Nationals manager Dusty Baker told reporters following Sunday's game.

Syndergaard is 2-4 with a 3.60 ERA in nine career starts against the Nationals, whom he's faced more than any other opponent. Harvey is 3-6 with a 2.99 ERA in 14 career starts against the Nationals, whom he has also faced more than any other opponent. Strasburg is 8-4 with a 2.49 ERA in 15 career starts against the Mets.