Max Scherzer threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 31 New York Mets' hitters he faced in Washington's season-opening loss on Monday afternoon. In his first start for the Nationals, after signing a 7-year/$210M deal this past winter, the 30-year-old right-hander walked the first batter he faced, Curtis Granderson, then proceeded to retire seventeen-straight batters before issuing his second walk of the game, again to Granderson.
"First pitch strikes are key and then he can go to work," Nats' skipper Matt Williams told reporters after Scherzer went 7 ⅔ innings against the Mets.
"But today there [were] a lot of first pitch strikes and he used his breaking ball for strikes. Turned up the fastball when he needed to and had them off-balance for the most part. They came through with a big hit when they needed it and that's the difference."
Scherzer agreed on what was working for him, telling reporters, including MASN's Chris Johnson, that he was pounding the zone all afternoon.
"I pounded the zone today and really only fell behind two hitters," Scherzer said. "So from that standpoint, that's what's encouraging is that I'm attacking the zone and doing that with all my pitches."
The hit Williams mentioned came in the sixth, when Scherzer started behind four of the six batters he faced, issuing the two-out walk to Granderson before the much-discussed missed pop-up by Ian Desmond on David Wright's fly to short right and the two-run double by Lucas Duda that put the Mets ahead, 2-1.
"First hit he gave up was the difference in the game," Williams said. "Miscue behind him, that was the difference today. He was really good, as advertised."
Did the miscue behind him rattle the right-hander?
"No," Williams responded. "I don't think so. No. He was concentrating on the hitter. He's one out from being out of that inning, so no, I didn't see any of that from him."
The third of the three unearned runs Scherzer allowed came in the seventh after the second error by Desmond on a Juan Lagares grounder to short.
Travis d'Arnaud stepped in next and tripled to center just out of reach of a leaping Michael Taylor, who'd tracked it to the wall.
Williams told reporters after the game that he thought the 23-year-old, rookie center fielder would make the catch.
"Yeah, I thought he had a chance," Williams said. "It's a difficult play, ball is hit well, and he timed it perfectly up against the wall, he was just short."
When Scherzer gave up back-to-back, two-out hits in the eighth, Williams finally pulled the plug on Scherzer's D.C. debut.