Max Scherzer struck out 13 of the 27 batters he faced last night in Wrigley Field, and the 30-year-old starter handed a 2-0 lead over to the Washington Nationals' bullpen after seven strong innings of work against the Chicago Cubs. Matt Grace took the mound in the bottom of the eighth and gave up a line drive double to left on a first-pitch fastball to Cubs' pinch hitter Jorge Soler.
Anthony Rizzo took a pitch on the wrist in the next at bat and with power-hitting right-hander Kris Bryant due up, Nats' skipper Matt Williams went to the bullpen again for veteran righty Casey Janssen, who popped Bryant up for the first out of the frame.
Dexter Fowler bunted one back towards the mound in the next at bat, but Janssen was all over it, making a diving play and skipping a throw to first for the second out of the frame.
With runners on second and third, the Nationals' reliever got a groundout to short from Starlin Castro to end a quick, 12-pitch, eight-strike outing that preserved the 2-0 lead.
"He came in and made pitches," Nats skipper Matt Williams said. "
"Again, he's been good down in the zone. A couple of them were close to being strikes that could have been called, but he worked and threw it where he wanted to throw it. So, good outing again for him."
"You play it back, we did not play our best game, we still had a chance to win that game," Cubs' skipper Joe Maddon told reporters.
"The big thing was the inning where Soler leads off as a pinch hitter, double, walk, then you've got Kris coming up and then Dexter and Starling... felt pretty good about it actually and it just didn't play."
Williams talked about having a veteran reliever available for that situation now that Janssen is finally part of the 'pen after starting the season on the DL with rotator cuff tendinitis in his right shoulder.
"It's good to have that experience," Williams said. "He's been in that situation before. He's been in the eighth inning before, he's closed before. So, nothing rattles him, he's just ready to pitch when he's called upon."
Janssen has thrown just 2 ⅔ innings for the Nationals thus far, but last night's outing provided a clear example of what Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said he thought he was getting after signing the veteran right-hander to a 1-year/$5M contract this winter.
"He's a warrior," Rizzo told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Bowden and Casey Stern.
"He's a tough guy on the mound. He's a guy that's not afraid. He throws the ball over the plate and he's got the stuff to finish off games. So, again, gives us some insurance in the ninth. Gives us an option in the eighth and a guy who will take the ball in any and all situations."
Janssen came through in a tough situation on Wednesday night, and the Nationals took two of three from the Cubs in Wrigley Field.
• We talked about Janssen's diving play on the bunt, Max Scherzer's 13 Ks and Bryce Harper's home on last night's edition of Nats Nightly: