NEW YORK — On the day the New York Mets were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, Zack Wheeler gave them more reason to believe the future will be better.
Not that Wheeler wanted to hear any of that. Not even after holding Washington to one run in seven innings Wednesday night in a 3-0 loss to the Nationals.
Asked what he liked about his pitching, the rookie said, "Um, nothing."
Ryan Zimmerman hit his fifth home run in five games, Dan Haren threw one-hit ball for six innings and the Nationals won their fifth straight.
The Mets started five rookies and lost for the eighth time in 10 games.
"I mean, I just made that one mistake to Zimmerman. As soon as I let it go, I knew it was meat because it was spinning right down the middle. It got blasted," Wheeler said.
Wheeler (7-5) gave up one run and eight hits, striking out six and walking one. He wound up with his third loss in four starts.
Zimmerman opened the sixth by homering beyond the leap of left fielder Eric Young Jr. His 22nd home run came on an 0-2 pitch and was the first long ball permitted by Wheeler in 36 innings – he was tagged for nine homers in his first 57 innings this year as a major leaguer.
"This guy competes tough on the mound," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I'm really impressed with the way Zack Wheeler goes about things. I really am. He's going to be really good."
On a night full of 9/11 tributes, Collins wore an NYPD hat during batting practice. There were several remembrances on the field, on the scoreboard and over the public-address system of those affected by the terror attacks 12 years ago.
The Nationals improved to 22-9 in their late charge toward a playoff spot. They remained six games behind Cincinnati for the final NL wild-card spot with only 17 to play.
Denard Span extended his hitting streak to a career-high 22 games and Anthony Rendon added a two-run double that broke it open in the eighth inning. Jayson Werth delivered another extra-base hit and Bryce Harper beat out an infield hit after missing four games because of a sore left hip.
Haren (9-13) and the Washington bullpen held an overmatched New York lineup to three singles. On Monday night, the Mets were shut out on one hit by Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez.
"As we go forward, 2014 is going to be a big year for us," Collins said. "We're looking at things right now – are guys willing to make the changes that need to be made so they can get better?"
Battered by the Mets and Marlins in his previous two starts, Haren dominated. He gave up a single to Juan Lagares in the fourth, struck out eight and walked one.
Xavier Cedeno, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano combined for three scoreless innings of relief. Soriano closed for his 41st save, giving up a bunt single to Lagares.
The Reds' 6-0 win over the Chicago Cubs was already posted when the Nationals took the field. They got off to a fast start when Span led off the game with a single and Werth lined a one-out double. Wheeler escaped by striking out Harper and Ian Desmond.
Werth has gone 11 for 23 during Washington's winning streak with two homers and six doubles.
Before the game, the dugouts were filled with applauding players, managers and coaches as representatives of first responders from Sept. 11 marched into the middle of the diamond. The Mets and Nationals then lined up along the baselines for a moment of silence, followed by the national anthem. A member of the New York Fire Department performed "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch.
NOTES: Lagares ended an 0-for-12 rut with his single ... Mets INF Justin Turner will be "down for a few days" with a strain in his right hamstring. He hurt himself running the bases Tuesday night. ... Mets 3B David Wright (strained right hamstring) ran the bases before the game and will increase his workouts this weekend. He's been out since Aug. 2 and there's no target date for his return. ... Recently signed RHP Aaron Harang makes his Mets debut Thursday against RHP Tanner Roark (5-0, 0.94). Harang went 5-11 with a 5.76 ERA for Seattle this season.