In "desperate" need of a win after dropping three straight overall and falling 4.5 games behind the New York Mets in the NL East, the Washington Nationals sent Max Scherzer to the mound last night in AT&T Park in the second game of four with the San Francisco Giants.
Scherzer made it through just three innings, however, giving up seven hits, two of them home runs, and six runs total in what ended up an 8-5 loss.
Scherzer gave up a solo home run by Matt Duffy in the first that tied that game at 1-1 after the Nats jumped out to an early advantage, then surrendered four doubles and four runs in the second as the Giants built up a four-run lead.
Nationals' manager Matt Williams sent the right-hander out for the third inning at 49 pitches, but the 50th, a first-pitch fastball to Hunter Pence, soared out to center for a solo home run that made it 6-1 San Francisco.
In six second-half starts, Scherzer, who put up a 2.11 ERA and a .185/.214/.299 line against in 132 first-half innings, now has a 5.18 ERA and a .279/.331/.519 line against in 33 IP since the All-Star Break.
Williams was asked after the Nationals' fourth straight loss, if he was concerned about the 31-year-old starter?
"Well, I mean, the last couple times out it hasn't been his best and tonight I just felt like he wasn't throwing it where he wanted to," Williams said.
"Left balls in the middle of the plate and anybody that does that has a chance to give up some runs."
Justin Maxwell drove Brandon Crawford in with a line drive to right in the second at bat of the Giants' second, hitting a 96 mph 1-2 fastball all the way the other way and just inside the foul line.
After a hit-by pitch and a sac bunt put two runners in scoring position, Gregor Blanco ripped a first-pitch fastball by first and it too fell in fair for a two-run double that made it 4-1 before he scored to make it 5-1.
"The ball down the line, just on the line, both of them, actually, just on the line, a foot further to the right it may be a different story," Williams said. "That's the way the game is. You just gotta keep going."
Asked if it was a mechanical issue, or a dead arm maybe, causing Scherzer's problems, the second-year skipper said he wasn't sure.
"I don't know," Williams admitted. "We'll address it. We'll get him through his next bullpen, see how he feels. He didn't have a lot of pitches tonight, unfortunately for us, but we'll see how he feels going forward."
Williams sent Scherzer back out for the third, he explained, to try to avoid a long night for the 'pen.
"We've got to try to get innings," he said.
"We can't run through everybody in the bullpen in that regard, so we wanted to get at least another one. And then we crawled back in it. We had a chance. We cut it to 6-5 and were back in the game."
Scherzer threw nine pitches in the third, one of them hit out by Pence, and he ended his outing after just 58 pitches then went into the clubhouse to try to see if he could pinpoint the issue.
Washington Post reporter James Wagner, citing Scherzer's explanation, wrote that he, "found he was dropping his arm, causing his pitches, especially his fastball, to flatten out."
"It’s a bad time of the year to have a mechanical thing go wrong," Scherzer told reporters. "But I actually think I can fix this within five days."
"I think it's more location than anything," Williams said.
"Velocity is okay. He's running it in there at 92-95 like he always does. But the location tonight -- breaking ball for the double down the line, fastball down and away -- pretty good pitch for the double down the line -- and then the homer to Pence was center-cut. He's going to compete. He'll go out there again next time and hopefully give us a win."
The Nationals missed an opportunity to pick up a game on the Mets, who lost for just the third time in their last ten.
Williams said their current position in the standings is something everyone with the Nationals is keenly aware of with just 47 games left.
"Everybody is fully aware of that that sits in that clubhouse," he said. "We have to prepare for tomorrow. It's never going to be easy during any game. One swing of the bat and we just might win that one tomorrow and you never know what can happen from there."