5. Scherzer vs the Blue Jays: Max Scherzer held the Cubs scoreless over seven innings of work on the mound last week in Wrigley Field, striking out 13 batters, walking just one and limiting Chicago to five hits in what ended up a 3-0 road win for Washington.
The Nationals' 30-year-old right-hander lowered his ERA to 1.51 on the year in that outing -- in which he earned his fifth straight win -- to go along with a 1.77 FIP, 10 walks (1.26 BB/9) and 85 Ks (10.67 K/9) in 71 ⅔ IP over which he's held opposing hitters to a combined .199/.233/.285 line.
Over the course of his five-start win streak, Scherzer's put up a 1.75 ERA and a .207/.236/.311 line against with five walks (1.25 BB/9) and 46 Ks (11.50 K/9) in 36 IP.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams talked after the win over the Cubs about how impressed he's been with Scherzer's preparation before each start.
"He's got a real good plan for everybody that he faces," Williams said. "He's diligent about it. He takes time to work on it. He's got extra gears that a lot of people don't have. We saw that tonight. He threw one fastball at 98 [mph] for crying out loud. So, when he needs to reach back he can do it. Pretty good pitcher."
Tonight in Nationals Park, the one-time Arizona Diamondbacks and Detroit Tigers' starter, who spent five seasons in the American League before signing a 7-year/$210M with Washington this winter, was facing the Toronto Blue Jays for the eighth time in his career after going (4-0) with a 1.68 ERA and a .234/.274/.354 line against in 48 ⅓ IP in the previous seven outings.
All gates are now open for tonight's game. pic.twitter.com/Y08DcpuzhB— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) June 2, 2015
Scherzer's eleventh start with the Nationals began with a swinging K from Jose Reyes, who missed an 86 mph 1-2 change, but he walked Josh Donaldson in the next at bat and snapped at the ball with his glove in anger when Jose Lobaton threw it back to the mound. Jose Bautista lined out to center for out no.2, however, and Russell Martin sent a grounder to third for what looked like out no.3, but Yunel Escobar sailed the throw. E:5. Scherzer did it himself instead, ringing up Chris Colabello up for his second K of the inning, ending a 26-pitch opening frame.
Blue Jays' center fielder Kevin Pillar took a 94 mph, 3-1 fastball inside for a called strike he didn't like, but then got hold of the full-count fastball Scherzer threw him and sent it out to left field for a two-out solo blast. 1-0 Jays. Marco Estrada singled to right for a second two-out hit, but Jose Reyes popped out to end a 14-pitch frame. 40 total after two.
Josh Donaldson hit a 1-2 change the other way for a leadoff single in the Blue Jays' third, but three outs later he was stranded at first and Scherzer was through three on 48 pitches after an eight-pitch frame.
Kevin Pillar hit a two-out opposite field single to right field in the top of the fourth that Bryce Harper failed to catch on a sliding attempt, but a 2-2 slider to Marco Estrada got the opposing pitcher looking for out no.3 and Scherzer's 4th K. 15-pitch frame, 63 pitches.
Given a 2-1 lead to work with Scherzer came back out with a 13-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth. 76 total.
Ian Desmond backhanded a one-hop liner to short off Russell Martin's bat and fired a strike to first for the first out of the Jays' sixth. Chris Colabello lined out to center for out no. 2 and Danny Valencia... doubled to right-center off a sliding Bryce Harper's glove. Pinch hitter Justin Smoak worked the count full and took the second work of the game from Scherzer. Kevin Pillar (2 for 2, HR) hit his second home run of the game out to left. Three-run blast, 4-3 Jays. 1-1 slider, gone. A groundout to short by Marco Estrada ended a 25-pitch frame. 101 total.
• Max Scherzer's Line: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 2 HR, 101 P, 69 S, 6/2 GO/FO.
4. Estrada vs the Nationals: One-time Washington Nationals' starter Marco Estrada returned to the nation's capital today for his fourth start and sixth appearance against the team he made his MLB debut with back in 2008. Estrada signed a 1-year/$3.9M with the Blue Jays this past November after a (7-6), -0.2 fWAR campaign in his fifth season with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014 in which he put up a 4.36 ERA, a 4.88 FIP, 44 walks (2.63 BB/9) and 127 Ks (7.59 K/9) in 150 ⅔ IP.
Through 11 games and five starts with Toronto this season, Estrada was (1-3) with a 3.89 ERA, a 4.62 FIP, 14 walks (3.20 BB/9) and 33 Ks (7.55 K/9) in 39 ⅓ IP over which he'd held opposing hitters to a combined .227/.301/.400 line.
In his five starts for the Jays since moving into the rotation at the start of the month, Estrada was (0-3) before today's outing with a 5.02 ERA, a 4.87 FIP, nine walks (2.83 BB/9) and 22 Ks (6.91 K/9) in 28 ⅔ IP.
Estrada's sixth start of the season began with two quick outs, but Bryce Harper dumped a single into short center field to keep the bottom of the first alive, before Tyler Moore popped out to end a 16-pitch frame.
Clint Robinson walked in the first at bat of the Nats' second, but three outs later he was still at first and Estrada was through two scoreless innings on 30 pitches after a 14-pitch second.
A 17-pitch, 1-2-3 second left Estrada at 47 pitches with seven straight Nationals set down.
Bryce Harper doubled to right on an 80 mph 1-2 change from Estrada, bouncing a liner off the top of the right field wall for his tenth two-base hit of the 2015 campaign and he scored in the next at bat when Tyler Moore hit a line drive double to left on a 1-0 change. Double no.3 for Moore, 1-1 game. Moore moved to third on the second out of the frame, and scored on a two-out single to right by Jose Lobaton, who was first-pitch swinging and sent a grounder through the right side of the infield. 2-1 Nationals. 15-pitch fourth for Estrada, 62 total.
Max Scherzer singled to center to start the Nats' fifth, and Yunel Escobar walked after failing to get a bunt down on the first pitch he saw from Estrada. Ian Desmond worked back from 0-2 to a full count, but K'd swinging at a fastball outside. Bryce Harper sent a slow roller to first that Chris Colabello tossed to the covering pitcher, who dropped it. Safe at first. Tyler Moore stepped in with the bases loaded and one out and hit a sac fly to right, 3-1. 26-pitch frame for Estrada, 88 total.
Michael Taylor doubled with two down in the Nats' sixth, connecting for his fifth two-base hit of 2015, and Dan Uggla worked the count full in a pinch hit appearance before lining out to left. Still 4-3 Blue Jays. 18-pitch frame, 106 total.
• Marco Estrada's Line: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 106 P, 66 S, 4/4 GO/FO.
3. You can't spell Scherzer without Ks... Uhmmm...?: Max Scherzer put up double digit K totals in four of six starts in May, finishing the month with 13 strikeouts vs the Chicago Cubs last time out. On the year, the 30-year-old right-hander has higher K% (30.4%) than he's posted in his career, up from a 26.0% career average and his 85 Ks are the third-most in the NL and fourth-most league wide among starters so far this season.
Nats' skipper Matt Wililams was asked before tonight's start what's allowed Scherzer to pile up so many strikeouts early this season.
"I just think it's the ability to throw any pitch at any time for a strike," Williams said.
"So, strike one is always important for a pitcher, we all know that, but the fact that he can throw slider for a strike, he can throw a curveball for a strike and his fastball for a strike to both sides of the plate.
"You want to be aggressive against him because you don't want necessarily want to get to his offspeed stuff or his two-strike stuff. But if he locates like he has been, then he gets a lot of foul balls, balls that are not put in play with authority on the first pitch and then he can go to work. That's why his strikeout numbers are still high. But he's aggressive within the strike zone and he's got all four of them that he can throw at any time."
Tonight against the Blue Jays, who entered the doubleheader in the middle of the pack in the majors, at 15th overall with 389 Ks so far this season, Scherzer struck out two in a 26-pitch first.
He got his third K of the game on a 1-2 slider to Danny Valencia in the first at bat of the fourth, and Marco Estrada K'd looking at a 2-2 slider for K no.4 and the third out of the fourth inning.
Jose Bautista chased a 94 mph 2-2 fastball up high for the final out of the fifth and Scherzer's 5th and final K of the game. 90 total (10.43 K/9) in 77 ⅔ IP.
2. Turning Point(s): Blue Jays' center fielder Kevin Pillar didn't like home plate ump Brian Knight's call on a mid-90s 3-1 fastball that tailed inside but was ruled a strike. He stepped back in, however, and took a full-count fastball to left field for a solo home run that put Toronto up 1-0 early tonight after they were shut out in the day half of today's split doubleheader.
On second thought, you were right, Pillar, it was ball four, take your base. Just the fourth home run Max Scherzer had allowed in 73 ⅔ to that point.
• Bryce Harper (who just missed a HR to right) and Tyler Moore hit back-to-back doubles on changeups from Marco Estrada in the fourth, with Harper's scoring on Moore's third two-base hit of 2015. Moore scored two outs later on an RBI single to right by Jose Lobaton that put the Nationals up 2-1 after four in Nationals Park.
• A single by Max Scherzer, walk by Yunel Escobar and ROE by Bryce Harper on a grounder to first loaded the bases for Tyler Moore in the fifth and tonight's cleanup hitter sent a sac fly to right to bring Scherzer in, 3-1 Nats.
• Max Scherzer retired the first two batters in the Blue Jays' sixth, but a line drive to right by Danny Valencia fell in for a two-out double when Bryce Harper failed to catch it on a sliding attempt. Justin Smoak took the second walk of the game from Scherzer in the next at bat and both runners scored on the second home run of the game by Kevin Pillar, who put Toronto ahead, 4-3. First multi-HR game of the year for Scherzer.
1. The Wrap-Up: Right-hander Blake Treinen took over for Max Scherzer in the top of the seventh inning in Nationals Park and gave up a leadoff single by Jose Reyes, who went first-to-third on a single to center by Josh Donaldson in the next at bat. Jose Bautista walked on four pitches to load'em up for Russell Martin, who sent a swinging bunt back to the mound, allowing Treinen to get the force at home for out no.1, but Chris Colabello hit an RBI line drive to left to make it 5-3 Blue Jays. Danny Valencia put the Jays up by three with a sac fly to center, 6-3.
Toronto added another run on double steal attempt on which Jose Lobaton sailed the throw to center. 7-3 after six and a half.
Liam Hendriks took over for the Blue Jays in the home-half of the seventh and retired the Nationals in order.
Felipe Rivero struck out the side in the top of the eighth, though he walked the opposing pitcher (who is a reliever).
After Hendriks retired the Nats in order in the home-half of the eighth, Casey Janssen came on to face his former team in the top of the ninth and threw a scoreless frame.
Blue Jays' closer Brett Cecil came out for some work and retired the Nats in order. Ballgame. 7-3 Blue Jays.
Nationals now 29-23