Max Scherzer was two outs into his 40th inning on the mound without a walk, a stretch that went back five starts to the ninth inning of his June 14th turn in the rotation against the Milwaukee Brewers in Miller Park, and 8 ⅔ innings into his outing against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday afternoon, when O's outfielder Adam Jones' second home run of the game ended Scherzer's day.
Jones hit two sliders, both 1-2 pitches, and both of them to left field, for the only two runs Scherzer allowed in the series and first-half finale in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Scherzer and the Nationals won the game, 3-2, when Drew Storen took over on the mound and struck Chris Davis out to earn his 27th save.
"With the exception of a couple of swings from Adam [Jones], he was pretty good," Matt Williams said after Scherzer won the tenth game of his first season with Washington.
"He threw it where he wanted to, we pushed him to 110-plus, and so yeah, he felt good today, a lot better than last time out. He felt much better."
Scherzer bounced back from a rough 81-pitch, 4 ⅔-inning start against Cincinnati in which he gave up seven hits and five earned runs, with a 115-pitch start against the Orioles in which he gave up two runs on four hits and struck out seven hitters.
"I was executing pitches," Scherzer said.
"Again, a start with no walks allows you to pitch efficiently and pitch deep into games and that can always help the ballclub. I'm proud of that.
"[Wilson Ramos] did a great job back there knowing when to sequence stuff and just a great job of executing all my pitches when I needed to."
"It's just command of his pitches," Williams said of Scherzer's stretch of walk-free starts."All of them when he needs to, any time he needs to. He threw some curveballs today, changeups when he had to, used his fastball effectively. That just tells us that he's in command of all of them. He can get ahead in the count and then if he gets behind or he gets to a full [count] then he can make a pitch."
Command of most of his pitches. The two sliders he threw to Jones weren't quite where Scherzer wanted them.
"It was just high enough," he said of the second slider Jones hit out, which was supposed to be down and in.
"I wanted to kind of bury it and it was just caught at the bottom of the zone," Scherzer explained, "and he was able to hit it where it was to -- in a special part in this park, but he just did a good job of competing against me with two strikes and hitting my offspeed stuff, so credit to him."
"He didn't make many mistakes, that's for sure," Buck Showalter told reporters. "He's got so many ways to get you out. He kind of invents different shape to his breaking ball.
"He has a different -- he'll two-seam, four-seam the ball. He got bored a little bit I think the fourth or fifth inning, broke out the changeup a little bit, but we had three or four balls on the button that we'd have liked to have fall in there, but good pitchers seem to have that."
"We certainly didn't present many areas where he had to go and reach back so that's why he was able to maintain his stuff so long," Showalter said.
Scherzer said he was more than capable of finishing out the ninth, but that wasn't his decision.
"I felt strong, so I was ready to go as long as I could," he explained.
"Obviously 'Skip' made a decision to go to Storen there once Jones hit a home run, but I felt strong even in the ninth."
Scherzer ended the first half of the first year of his 7-year/$210M deal with the Nationals (10-7) with a 2.11 ERA, a 2.19 FIP, 14 walks (0.95 BB/9) and 150 Ks (10.23 K/9) in 18 starts and 132 innings pitched.