Max Scherzer wasn't particularly sharp on the mound on Tuesday night, though he managed to hang around for six innings of the Washington Nationals' 5-4 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, blowing a 3-0 lead in the fourth, but limiting the damage and handing a tie to the Nats' bullpen.
"Max battled tonight," Matt Williams told reporters after the game, "got through six and kept it at [3-3]."
Scherzer walked three batters for the second time this season and in the second straight outing, and threw a total of 114 pitches, striking out nine batters and giving up four hits and the three earned runs.
"I think his fastball is just a touch up, and they were able to lay off some high ones tonight," Williams said of Scherzer's "struggles" against the D-Backs.
A one-out walk to David Peralta started Arizona's three-run rally in the fourth.
David Peralta and Jarrod Saltalamacchi followed with singles, with Peralta scoring on Salty's and Chris Owings hit a two-run double to left on a 1-2 slider from Scherzer before the Nats' starter worked his way out of trouble, striking out Josh Collmenter and Ender Enciarte to strand the go-ahead run at third at the end of a 40-pitch frame.
"The pitch to Owings is a slider that he didn't get through and just left it middle of the plate," Williams said.
"Everybody makes mistakes when they go out there," he continued.
"Sometimes those get popped up or grounded into the ground and sometimes they go in for a double."
Scherzer's outing ended with eight straight outs and 33 pitches in the final two frames.
"The good thing is that he competes regardless," Williams said. "We stretched him tonight for his pitch count and he was able to work through the last inning and set us up for the rest of the game."
Casey Janssen followed Scherzer on the mound with a seven-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh. Drew Storen retired the side in order on nine pitches in the the top of the eighth and the Nationals rallied in the bottom of the eighth inning with a walk by Ryan Zimmerman, double by Jayson Werth and two-run single to right by Wilson Ramos that made it 5-3.
"Hopefully I can turn it over to the pen with the lead," Scherzer said. "That's my job and that's what I pride myself on.
"But to have guys down there that are quality arms that can go out there and get outs, just gives you more confidence as a team that we can continue to run out guys that can shut down innings."
Janssen completed his ninth straight scoreless outing. Storen, who hasn't given up a run since June 24th, continued pounding the zone, with all nine pitches strikes. Williams said that command is the key for each.
"Strike one and going to work after that," he said when asked about Janssen. "Expanding off the plate. But the key for him is strike one. And he's been able to do that, to both sides of the plate, lefty or righty. Been really good."
Storen too, has been in command over his recent run. "In the last four it's been really good. I don't know how many balls he's thrown, it hasn't been very many."
"Three," a reporter said, as in three balls in the last 35 pitches.
"Yeah, so there you have it," Williams said. "He's putting it where he wants to."
After Janssen and Storen, the Nationals handed a two-run lead to new Nats' closer Jonathan Papelbon, who worked around a two-out error, giving up an unearned run before earning his 19th save in 19 opportunities this season.
"Having Papelbon here it's a big plus," Scherzer said.
"It just shortens everything," Williams said of Papelbon's addition.
"In a situation like tonight, we have seven, eight, nine and we have guys that have closed games that are used to those types of situations and from the left side we've got a guy that has done the same.
"So that does nothing but help your team. They've got to go out and execute, just like everybody else does, but it shortens our game a little bit."
The Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak with the win, and kept themselves 1.0 game out of first, behind the New York Mets, who won their fifth straight and eighth in the last ten.
• We talked about the Nationals' win, the bullpen's perfomance, Scherzer's outing and more on the latest edition of Nats Nightly after the game: