Matt Williams talked before yesterday's game about what makes Max Scherzer so difficult to face and what he'd been doing on the mound to shut hitters down early in his first season in Washington.
Before Thursday's outing, the 30-year-old right-hander was (1-1) with a 0.83 ERA, a 1.31 FIP, four walks (1.66 BB/9) and 25 Ks (10.38 K/9) in 21 ⅔ IP.
"He's thrown it where he wants to and he's aggressive for sure," Williams said.
"He's low 3/4s [arm slot], so for the righty it's a little bit crossfire. It's the ability to pitch at 92 and reach back for 96 when he needs it. So that difference between 92 and 96 is pretty good."
"The ability to change speeds with his fastball is important," the former major league slugger said, "not just breaking ball."
"He's got the ability to throw any of his pitches for strikes," Williams continued.
"We've seen strikeout pitches -- called strikeout pitches. We've seen swing-and-miss strikeouts. He's got the ability to reach back when he needs to, when he really needs to reach back for a fastball. I'm sure if you asked him, he would love to be through five innings with 50 pitches and not necessarily strike guys out, but just get outs."
After five innings, Scherzer was up to just 55 pitches, having given up back-to-back hits to Matt Carpenter and Jason Heyward on the first two pitches he threw in the first and a run one out later when Carpenter scored on a wild pitch to Cards' first baseman Matt Adams, but not much else.
Scherzer set down 16 of the 17 batters he faced after the first two batters reached, before the Cards rallied with two down in the top of the sixth.
Heyward singled again, Scherzer hit Matt Holliday with a fastball, and Adams drove Heyward in with a two-out single to left that made it 2-1 Cardinals a half-inning after the Nationals rallied to tie things up.
Scherzer came back out for a scoreless seventh, but he was done after that, having throw just 82 pitches over seven innings of work.
"I thought he pitched well," Williams said after what ended up a 4-1 loss.
"The first inning, the leadoff double and a bloop and he had a chance to get out of that inning. Pulled the slider a little bit, but other than that I thought he pitched well. He ran into trouble with two outs there in the sixth inning and gave up a base hit, another guy in scoring position, but other than that it was good."
Scherzer left after seven, Williams explained, because the right-hander jammed his thumb on the "single" he hit in the bottom of the fifth.
"He could have gone further. When he hit that baseball it jammed him just a touch. He felt it a little in his right hand, but he gutted through it."
Williams assured reporters that the issue with his hand was nothing to worry about.
"He jammed himself a little bit swinging, so he came in and said, 'Hey, you know, I'm not where I want to be. I'm not controlling my pitches the way I want to control them.'
"So that being said, we decided to go with the hitter there anyway. As it ended up it didn't matter, but nonetheless he wasn't comfortable out there pitching, so if you are not comfortable out there pitching, then there's no reason for him to hit there."
"It was one of those situations where it was smart to come out," Scherzer told reporters.
"My spot was coming up in the order and we were down. So it was kind of just a little bit of everything. Use a little caution and try to get a chance to get a real stick in there and try to get a run or two."
Williams said in the end he was impressed with Scherzer's outing overall.
"He got out of the first inning trouble, only giving up one. We had opportunities, a lot of opportunities today and we didn't come through for him. Just keep doing that though. We'll come through."
Scherzer ended the day with a 1.26 ERA, a 1.55 FIP, four walks (1.26 BB/9) and 29 Ks (9.10 K/9) in 28 ⅔ IP.