5. Scherzer vs the Bucs: Max Scherzer has allowed one earned run or less in nine of his thirteen starts this season.
Two of the four starts in which the 30-year-old right-hander allowed more than one came earlier this month when the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees scored four each in back-to-back outings, but Scherzer bounced back last time out in his third start of the month with a 16-K performance against Milwaukee in which he gave up just one hit and one walk in nine scoreless innings in a 4-0 win.
"You felt like every hitter was 0-2," Brewers' skipper Craig Counsell said. "He'd throw quality pitches. There [were] very few mistakes."
"I just thought I was able to really get my slider going against the right-hand hitters," Scherzer told reporters.
"I was able to execute it in the zone and out of the zone and [Jose Lobaton] was back there just calling a great game for me."
Scherzer took a perfect game into the seventh inning before Milwaukee outfielder Carlos Gomez hit a broken-bat single to short right that dropped in over second baseman Anthony Rendon for the only hit the Nationals' starter allowed.
"I put some hair on it," Scherzer said of the fastball Gomez hit. "I was not letting up on that fastball. He was able to get a good swing on it and kept a level plane through it and was able to get it in there. So, you take some luck to be able to throw a no-hitter or perfect game, this proves that."
The win left Scherzer (7-5) with a 1.93 ERA, a 2.04 FIP, 14 walks (1.35 BB/9) and 113 Ks (10.90 K/9) in 93 ⅓ innings pitched, over which he's held opposing hitters to a combined .194/.230/.295 line.
Scherzer took on the Pittsburgh Pirates this afternoon in his fourteenth start of his first season in D.C. after signing a 7-year/$210M free agent deal this winter.
His outing began with a quick, six-pitch, 1-2-3 inning, which gave him ten scoreless overall going back to his start in Miller Park. Three fly ball outs, one each to right, center and left got Scherzer through a nine-pitch, 1-2-3 second that left him at 15 overall after two.
Michael Taylor made a leaping grab at the wall in left to pull down a long fly ball off Jordy Mercer's bat for out no.2 of the Pirates' third, and Francisco Liriano K'd looking to end an 11-pitch frame. 26 total for Scherzer after three.
Scherzer struck out the side in a 17-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth that left him at 43 pitches total after four, with five Ks on the day.
This Max Scherzer thing is getting absurd— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) June 20, 2015
A 12-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth gave Scherzer fifteen straight outs to start the game and 14 scoreless innings overall going back to his last outing. 55 pitches overall.
Gregory Polanco went down swinging at an 0-2 changeup. K no.6. Jordy Mercer popped out to Danny Espinosa in short right. Francisco Liriano battled, but K'd swinging for out no.3, K no.7 and Scherzer's 18th straight out to start the game. 12-pitch frame, 67 total.
Josh Harrison popped out to left. Starling Marte K'd swinging through a wicked-nasty 0-2 slider. Andrew McCutchen fell behind 1-2 and chased a slider out of the zone. 9 Ks. 21 up and down. 11-pitch frame, 78 total.
Jung Ho Kang fell behind 0-2 and popped out to short left where Michael Taylor made the grab. Francisco Cervelli went down swinging at another filthy slider. Pedro Alvarez stepped in with two down and grounded into the shift. 24 up and down. 14-pitch frame. 92 total.
Gregory Polanco popped out to Anthony Rendon in foul territory off third. Jordy Mercer flew out to center. Pinch hitter Jose Tabata fell behind 0-2, got to 2-2 and ... fouled one off. C'mon! Another foul on pitch no.101. Third time the charm? Nope. Foul. The fourth 2-2 pitch hit him in the foot. HBP. Josh Harrison stepped in next and sent a fly to left to end it. HBP away from perfect, but a no-hitter for Max Scherzer.
Max Scherzer's Line: 9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 10 Ks, 106 P, 82 S.
4. Liriano vs the Nationals: Pittsburgh's 31-year-old lefty, Francisco Liriano, threw eight scoreless innings last time out on the mound, holding the Chicago Cubs two just two hits in an 11-0 win that earned the Pirates' southpaw his fourth win (4-5) of the 2015 campaign. Liriano hit double-digits in Ks for the fourth time in 13 starts in that outing, collecting 12 strikeouts from the 25 batters he faced in PNC Park.
That start left the left-hander with a 2.94 ERA, a 2.86 FIP, 27 walks (2.94 BB/9) and 99 Ks (10.78 K/9) in 82 ⅔ IP so far this season, over which he's held opposing hitters to a combined .176/.249/.277 line.
This afternoon in the nation's capital, Liriano was facing the Nationals, who entered the game with a .254/.325/.395 line against left-handers, good for 6th/4th/5th amongst National League teams so far this season.
In his two previous career outings against the Nats, Liriano was (1-1) with a 2.84 ERA in 12 ⅔ IP, giving up four runs on six hits in five innings last season in PNC and two his in 7 ⅔ scoreless the last time he faced the Nationals in the nation's capital back in July of 2013, taking a no-hitter through 5 ⅔.
This afternoon in the second game of this weekend's three-game set, he tried to get the Pirates back on track after the Nats ended their eight-game winning streak last night.
Liriano worked around a leadoff single by Denard Span for a scoreless eight-pitch first.
Tyler Moore walked in his two-out at bat in the second, but a flyout to center by Ian Desmond ended a 22-pitch frame that left Liriano at 30 total after two.
Max Scherzer singled with one down in the third, but was doubled up on a 4-6-3 off Denard Span's bat. Seven-pitch, frame, 37 total for Liriano after three.
With one down in the Nats' half of the fourth, Bryce Harper hit a 1-0 slider onto the putting green in center field some 420-430 feet from home for a solo blast that made it 1-0 Nationals. HR no.23 of 2015 for Harper. That was it for the Nats in a 14-pitch fourth for Liriano, 51 total.
Liriano retired the Nationals in order in the fifth, striking Michael Taylor out with a 96 mph 1-2 heater to end an 11-pitch frame. 62 total.
Denard Span K'd swinging on a 2-2 slider in the dirt, but it got away from Francisco Cervelli and he couldn't find it in time to throw to first. Span stole second with Anthony Rendon at the plate, and scored on a double to the gap that made it 2-0 Nationals. Rendon scored from second when Bryce Harper singled to left in the next at bat, 3-0 Nats. Jordy Mercer failed to come up with a grounder to short off Wilson Ramos' bat. Both runners moved up on a groundout by Danny Espinosa and both scored on an opposite field single by Tyler Moore. 5-0.
That was it for Liriano...
• Francisco Liriano's Line: 5.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 6 Ks, 1 HR, 93 P, 60 S, 1 WP, 5/2 GO/FO.
3. Random Game Notes: Before this afternoon's game, Matt Williams discussed a number of topics, including what the Nats will do with Joe Ross when Stephen Strasburg returns, Ian Desmond sitting out for the second straight game:
• It turned out, however, that Yunel Escobar was a late scratch with a stomach bug, so Desmond got the start at short and went...
• Pirates super-utility man Josh Harrison entered the second game of three for the Pirates in D.C. with a nine-game hit streak going, over which he was 17 for 39 (.436 AVG) with two doubles over that stretch.
• Road Bucs: The Pirates had won seven of eight on the road before dropping the series opener in Nationals Park, but they've still won 10 of their last 14 road games, and 18 of 35 so far this season.
• Francisco Liriano has posted the the second-lowest BAA (.212) among NL left-handers since joining the Pirates in 2013, behind only Clayton Kershaw (.200 BAA). In his last five starts, the lefty has held opposing hitters to a .161 BAA.
• Bryce Harper returned from a day off after suffering a hamstring injury. Here's what he had to say about returning to the lineup before today's game:
• Denard Span reached safely with an infield single in his first at bat, leaving him 14 for 44 in the Nationals' first at bat of the games he's played in through 48 games.
• Span's stolen base in the sixth left him 8 for 8 in stole base attempts this season.
2. Turning Point(s): With one down in the fourth, Bryce Harper turned a 1-0 slider around and hit a long fly ball out to the batter's eye green grass in center field for HR no.23 of 2015 for the 22-year-old slugger, who set a new season-high in homers in his 277th plate appearance after hitting 22 in 597 PAs in 2012.
• The Nationals got the line moving in the sixth, and it all started with a strikeout. Denard Span K'd swinging on a slider in the third, but it got loss in Francisco Cervelli's feet and the Pirates' catcher couldn't find it. Span reached base, then stole second and scored on a double by Anthony Rendon, who scored on a single by Bryce Harper. Harper and Wilson Ramos scored on an two-run single by Tyler Moore. 5-0 Nationals.
1. The Wrap-Up: Pirates' right-hander Rob Scahill took over on the mound with two down in the sixth and got the last out of the frame.
Vance Worley took over for the Pirates in the bottom of the seventh inning and gave up a line drive leadoff double to left-center by Michael Taylor. Max Scherzer bunted Taylor over to third/gave up an out. Denard Span lined out to left, but Taylor thought it might be a hit and didn't have time to tag and go for home. A wild pitch in the next at bat did the job though. 6-0 Nationals.
Worley threw a scoreless eighth.
Max Scherzer finished off the Pirates after giving up a 2-out HBP. No-hitter. So close.
Nationals now 36-33