Mets 8, Nats 3: Matt Bowman tops favorite team

VIERA, Fla. -- Princeton product Matt Bowman proved a capable substitute for Jonathon Niese.

Bowman, borrowed from minor league camp, tossed five scoreless innings and Matt Reynolds, Juan Lagares and Matt den Dekker homered to rally the New York Mets to an 8-3 win against the Washington Nationals at Space Coast Stadium on Thursday night.

The Mets (14-10) have a Grapefruit League-leading 31 homers.

Reynolds and Lagares consecutively went deep against left-hander Jerry Blevins in the seventh as the Mets pulled even at 3. Anthony Recker provided a tiebreaking sacrifice fly and Reynolds followed with an RBI double in the eighth against Craig Stammen. Den Dekker capped the four-run frame with a two-run homer.

Reynolds went 2-for-2 with a sacrifice fly off the bench and is hitting .378 (14-for-37) in Grapefruit League play. He is expected to open the season at Triple-A Las Vegas unless Daniel Murphy (hamstring) requires a season-opening DL stint. Murphy resumed running Thursday.

Eric Campbell -- trying to hold off Danny Muno for a bench spot -- had opened the scoring with an RBI double in the sixth against Tanner Roark.

A half-inning later, Michael Taylor, Clint Robinson and Ryan Zimmerman produced consecutive run-scoring hits with two outs against Jeurys Familia as the Nats took a 3-1 lead. Buddy Carlyle entered for Familia with two outs and stranded a pair of baserunners.

Manager Terry Collins said he is unconcerned with Familia’s spring-training inconsistency because the reliever is working on pitch selection with pitching coach Dan Warthen. Familia is trying to incorporate more upper-zone fastballs to complement his sinker, so everything is not down in the zone.

Nats starter Gio Gonzalez had blanked the Mets for five innings. The southpaw held the Mets hitless until Bowman’s bunt single to open the fifth.

Originally, Niese was scheduled to start Thursday’s Grapefruit League game. However, the threat of inclement weather prompted the Mets instead to use Niese in a morning simulated game back in Port St. Lucie.

Bowman, a 40-man roster member ticketed for Triple-A Las Vegas’ rotation, stepped in. He had been sent to minor league camp on March 17.

The wind gusted at the first pitch and a storm seemed brewing, but the skies eventually cleared with no precipitation. Bowman ultimately limited the Nats to two hits and a walk while striking out four in five innings. He threw 46 pitches (32 strikes). His previous high, on the minor league side, had been three innings -- although that came in an equivalent number of pitches.

Bowman, 23, entered camp with a distinction none of the other 56 players in Mets camp could claim: an Ivy League diploma.

Drafted by the Mets in the 13th round in 2012, Bowman attended fall-semester classes at Princeton after turning professional. He wrote his senior thesis last spring training and claimed his economics degree with fellow graduates in June’s commencement ceremony, which favorably coincided with a Double-A Binghamton off-day.

Bowman went a combined 10-8 with a 3.22 ERA in 24 appearances (23 starts) between Binghamton and Las Vegas last season. Although fellow prospects Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Rafael Montero get the hype, Triple-A manager Wally Backman on multiple occasions has predicted Bowman will be a major leaguer.

“I can understand why he’s very much liked around here,” Collins said.

Bowman throws a fastball that sits at 90-94 mph. He also has a curveball, slider and changeup. His delivery resembles Tim Lincecum’s style, although Bowman said their motions have diverged in recent years. Bowman has toned down his Lincecum-style trunk twist.

He attended high school at the prestigious St. Albans School in D.C., the same alma mater as Al Gore. Bowman grew up a Nationals fan, at least in his teenage years. He attended the team’s first-ever home game, back in 2005 at RFK Stadium.

When Bowman reached on a bunt single, he was thrilled to see Zimmerman playing first base. Zimmerman debuted with the Nationals late in their inaugural season in D.C.

“I said, ‘Nice to meet you. I’ve been watching you for a good long while now,’” Bowman said. “He said, ‘That’s great.’”

Flo charting: Wilmer Flores returned to the lineup for the first time since bruising his left foot on Sunday. He played six innings at shortstop and went 1-for-3 with a walk and strikeout.

Flores is wearing a guard on the foot while batting, but is not taping the foot or wearing anything special in the field.

“I feel it a little bit, but you’ve just got to go through it,” Flores said. “It’s going to be sore after.”

Flores acknowledged he thought the foot was broken when he fouled a pitch off of it Sunday.

“I was feeling pretty bad,” he said.

What’s next: Matt Harvey Day! Harvey is slated for 80 pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at 1:05 p.m. ET Friday in Jupiter. He will oppose right-hander John Lackey. Collins plans to bat Harvey eighth.