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CINCINNATI — The Mets have needed an ace with their two highest-profile pitchers on the injured list, and Taijuan Walker has filled the role nicely.
Simply, the right-hander has been every bit the force the Mets received in last year’s first half, when he represented the team at the All-Star game in Colorado. His body of work suggests he belongs in the conversation to repeat as a National League All-Star.
Walker flexed his muscle again Monday night. Save for an early home run allowed, he manhandled the Reds lineup in the Mets’ 7-4 victory at Great American Ball Park. The win was the Mets’ second straight and third in four games following their first three-game losing streak of the season.
Over six innings, Walker allowed three earned runs on four hits with nine strikeouts and one walk. His ERA rose to 2.86, which ranks ninth in the NL. Walker has pitched at least six innings in each of his last six starts and only once this season has he allowed more than four earned runs in a start. Over his last 11 starts he owns a 2.53 ERA, carrying the load with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer on the IL. Scherzer is scheduled to return Tuesday night for his first start since May 18.
The Mets (50-30) certainly welcome this underbelly of the schedule against the Reds and Marlins before heading to Atlanta next week for a three-game series against the surging Braves.
Francisco Lindor’s solo homer in the fifth gave the Mets a 4-3 lead against Hunter Greene. The blast was Lindor’s 13th of the season, second on the Mets to Pete Alonso’s 22 homers. Lindor worked the count full before pulling a 100 mph fastball into the right-field seats. It was something of a strenuous inning for Greene, who needed 12 pitches to retire Brandon Nimmo leading off.
Nimmo’s three-run homer in the second inning gave the Mets a 3-0 advantage. Mark Canha was hit by a pitch in the inning and Tomas Nido singled before Nimmo jumped on a first-pitch slider and reached the right-field seats. Nimmo’s homer was his sixth of the season.
The Mets extended their lead in the sixth on Dominic Smith’s two-run double against lefty Reiver Sanmartin. Smith, who entered the night with a .487 OPS this season against lefties, has provided the Mets with punch in recent days and since returning from a stint with Triple-A Syracuse. In the seventh, Eduardo Escobar — who went homerless for the first time in four games — stroked an RBI single that sunk the Reds in a 7-3 hole.
Former Mets utilityman Brandon Drury continued his All-Star first half with a three-run homer in the third inning that tied it 3-3. The homer was only the fourth allowed by Walker this season and first since June 7 in San Diego. Entering play Walker was third in the major leagues (among pitchers with at least 70 innings) with a ratio of 0.35 homers allowed per nine innings.
Matt Reynolds — one of three former Mets in Cincinnati’s lineup, along with Drury and Albert Almora Jr. — was hit by a pitch to begin the rally and Aramis Garcia singled. Drury’s blast was his 17th of the season.
Drew Smith allowed a solo homer in the seventh inning to Nick Senzel that sliced the Mets’ lead to 7-4.