WASHINGTON -- On a bright, sunny afternoon, R.A. Dickey had the Washington hitters swinging at shadows.
The knuckleballer baffled the Nationals, limiting them to four singles over 7 1/3 scoreless innings and leading the New York Mets to a 3-1 win Thursday.
Dickey (9-1) extended the longest shutout string of his career to 24 2/3 innings -- a span that began against Pittsburgh and continued against San Diego, St. Louis and the Nats.
"Literally, when I go out there, the only streak I care about is getting that hitter out," he said. "It doesn't change the mentality because there's a run of scoreless innings."
Dickey became the first pitcher in the majors to reach nine wins this season, backed by Lucas Duda's fifth homer in eight games. Dickey also exceeded his victory total from last year, when he often was the victim of poor run support.
"I'm getting more swings and misses. Other than that, I'm not doing anything differently," Dickey said.
"I'm trying to induce them into hitting pieces of the ball, not getting solid contact," he said.
Nationals teen Bryce Harper fanned twice. He awkwardly chased strike three in the first inning, then casually flipped his bat.
No luck today, rookie.
"He throws it hard, throws it soft. Sometimes, it starts at your face and goes down through the strike zone. He's a pretty unbelievable pitcher. It was pretty fun to face him, but going 0 for 4 is not fun," he said.
Duda hit his 10th homer, a two-run shot in the fifth against Chien-Ming Wang (1-2). Daniel Murphy, who earlier bounced into an inning-ending double play that left him in a 0-for-19 rut, later added an RBI single.
The way Dickey has been pitching lately, those three runs were more than enough. He struck out eight and walked two, and most of the outs were soft ones. When Adam LaRoche worked out an 11-pitch walk, it was a major accomplishment.
Mets manager Terry Collins said nice weather has been a factor in Dickey's good fortune, allowing him a better grip and therefore better command.
"When you get in that batter's box, you better be ready to hit something that's fluttering," he said.