WASHINGTON - For whatever reason, the New York Mets seem to play their best when Zack Wheeler is on the mound, no matter who is in the lineup.
With injuries and a youth movement turning New York's roster over, the rookie pitcher found himself on the hill with fellow members of the Mets' future, and they responded with a dominant effort Saturday night.
Riding Wheeler's arm and a station-to-station offense that collected a season-high 17 hits, the Mets rolled to their third straight victory, 11-3, over the Washington Nationals, and their 10th win in Wheeler's 14 starts this season.
The rookie right-hander isn't sure why he's been the beneficiary of some of New York's best baseball, but he'll take it.
"I don't even know what to say about tonight," Wheeler said. "I was just trying to throw and get out of there. My fastball command was on for the most part."
Wheeler (7-3) wasn't particularly dominant during his 6 2/3 innings of work, but he allowed just two runs on five singles while striking out three and walking one.
"He's not trying to strike people out," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "People were looking for (strikeouts) and when he got up here, he thought he had to do that, and he said, ‘Hey, look I don't have to. I can get outs if I pitch to contact.' "
Wheeler has now made five straight quality starts to lower his ERA to 3.36.
"In the back of your head, you do gain a little confidence," Wheeler said.
The Mets' makeshift starting lineup didn't exactly inspire confidence, with its leading hitter sitting at .280 (Josh Satin) and one double-digit home run hitter (Daniel Murphy), but they peppered Nationals starter Dan Haren into his shortest start of the season.
"It doesn't matter how they do it; they were able to get some hits off me," Haren said. "Whether it's singles, doubles or homers, it doesn't matter. The fact of the matter is they scored a bunch of runs and that was the ballgame."
Omar Quintanilla had the lone extra-base hit among the nine hits Haren allowed, a two-run double that went in-and-out of the glove of a diving Denard Span in center to give the Mets a 2-0 second-inning advantage.
New York continued its single assault in the third, registering a season-high seven hits and six runs in the frame off Haren and replacement Tanner Roark. EricYoung's second hit of the inning, a two-run single, made it 8-0.
"The addition of Eric Young has changed the way we play the game," Collins said. "I think other guys see Eric and when we've got to get runs across, baserunning is one way to do it."
Washington has now lost two straight after going 8-1 in its previous nine contests, failing to gain ground in the wild-card chase as August wraps up.
"We're seven, eight games back," Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We just have to keep on grinding until you're mathematically eliminated. We're seeing a lot of good young arms in this division."
The lone bright spot for the Nationals was Span, who extended his career-high hitting streak to 14 games with a 3-for-4 night.
"We know that we're running out of time. Tonight, just a terrible game," Span said. "A type of loss like this came at the wrong time. This was bad timing to lose a game like that."
New York had four players - Quintanilla, Murphy, Young and Juan Lagares - drive in two runs, and rookie Matt den Dekker picked up his first MLB hit and RBI.
NOTES: Nationals manager Davey Johnson was back in the dugout Saturday after leaving Friday's game due to dehydration. "I pinch hit for myself," the manager joked, saying he was feeling better. ... Mets 1B Ike Davis left the game after his third-inning sacrifice fly with a strained right oblique. Lucas Duda replaced Davis, and Collins wasn't optimistic Davis would return this season. ... The Mets improved to 34-34 on the road, the fourth-best mark in the NL. ... Nationals OF Jayson Werth reached enough plate appearances to become eligible for the NL batting title Saturday, and he entered the night third with a .325 average, behind Yadier Molina and Chris Johnson.