Eight starts after he earned his 11th win of the 2015 campaign with seven scoreless innings of work on the mound against the Miami Marlins, in a 1-0 win on July 30th in Marlins Park, Washington Nationals' right-hander Max Scherzer finally earned his 12th curly-W on Sunday.
Over a seven-start winless streak between those outings, which included a loss to the Marlins, the 31-year-old pitcher put up a 6.08 ERA, seven walks (1.58 BB/9), 53 Ks (11.92 K/9) and a .305/.335/.587 line against in 40 innings pitched, over which he gave up 11 home runs (2.48 HR/9) after giving up 13 in the 150 innings (0.78 HR/9) which preceded the winless stretch.
Scherzer gave up just three hits total in seven innings in his July start against the Marlins, walking three but stranding every runner that reached base.
That win followed a rough five-inning outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates in which Scherzer gave up seven hits, three of them home runs, and five runs total in a 7-5 loss.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams was asked, after Scherzer bounced back against the Fish, what was different for the starter in his seven scoreless innings on the mound?
"I don't know if there was anything different," he told reporters.
"He was aggressive. Fastball command was pretty good today both in and out, up when he needed it. Pitched well."
Scherzer did, however, allow three walks in that start, issuing more than two for the first time in 21 starts to that point.
He went on to walk three batters two more times in five August starts, over which he was (0-3) with a 6.43 ERA, seven walks (2.25 BB/9), 37 Ks (11.89 K/9) and a .287/.333/.548 line against in 28 innings.
His last start that month was a seven-inning outing against the Marlins in the nation's capital which saw him give up six hits, two of them home runs, and four runs total in what ended up a 4-3 loss.
Scherzer gave up one run in the first on an RBI double by Derek Dietrich, who hit one off the out-of-town scoreboard in right with two down in the first. Martin Prado scored on Dietrich's hit after singling with two out and Prado homered the second time up, taking a 96 mph 2-2 fastball knee-high inside out to left for a two-run blast that gave Miami a 3-1 lead.
A 1-0 fastball up high to Marcell Ozuna in the fourth went out as well as the Marlins jumped ahead, 4-1.
Scherzer retired the last twelve batters he faced as the Nationals rallied to get within one but fell short. Williams said after the game that in spite of a few hard-hit balls, it was a solid outing by the starter.
"I don't think the pitch to Prado is a bad pitch," he explained. "It's a good swing. I would imagine that if you ask [Max] he'd like the ball to Ozuna to be down a little bit, that ball's up. And then the ball in the first inning off the wall, but okay... we came back there a little bit, he got to a point where we had to pinch hit for him, but like I said, three swings of the bat were enough for them."
Scherzer received no decisions in two outings between that start against the Marlins and yesterday's win, giving up 18 hits, four of them homers, and seven runs total in twelve innings in a 4-3 win over the Cardinals in St. Louis and an 8-5 loss to the New York Mets in D.C. in which he gave up seven hits and five earned runs in six innings.
He bounced back again on Sunday, however, with eight scoreless innings of work on the mound in what ended up a 5-0 win over the Marlins.
So what was working on the mound in Marlins Park? "All of it, really," Williams said.
"Fastball command to both sides. Breaking ball and a couple of good changeups to lefties. In command. I would imagine if he didn't run the bases in his last at bat the way he ran the bases in his last at bat, we could have sent back out, but no use doing that with what turned out to be a five-run lead at that point."
Scherzer was up to 93 pitches when he reached on an infield single in the top of the eighth inning, and he took third on a single to right by Anthony Rendon and was eventually stranded.
He came back out with a quick, nine-pitch, bottom of the eighth in which he worked around a one-out double to left by Jeff Mathis.
Williams said that Scherzer argued briefly about ending his start there, but acquiesced and watched Felipe Rivero wrap up his 12th win of the season with a scoreless ninth.
"He didn't put up much of a fight," Williams told reporters, "but he put up a little one. But he's sweating and he loves to be on the bases, too much some times, but he pitched really well. He shut them down completely."
Williams was asked if the outing might serve as a confidence-builder for Scherzer, who completed his sixth scoreless outing in 29 starts?
"I don't know if he ever doubts himself," Williams said.
"Again, today is an example of location and down in the zone location. Good fastballs down and away to the right-handers too. That's bread and butter for him and it sets his at bats up. A couple of guys in their lineup have decent numbers against him too.
"He handled [Martin] Prado nicely today, which was the bugaboo last time that he faced these guys. So, pitched well."
Scherzer improved to (12-11) with the win. He ended the day with a 2.91 ERA, a 2.86 FIP, 26 walks (1.18 BB/9) and 231 Ks (10.50 K/9) in 198 innings, over which he's held opposing hitters to a combined .215/.249/.371 line.