Max Scherzer retired fourteen-straight St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night... after he gave up a bases-loaded walk and a grand slam in a five-run top of the third inning.
Washington's 31-year-old ace got bit by the long ball again, giving up his major league-leading fifteenth home run of the season on a hanging slider to Cardinals' outfielder Stephen Piscotty, but it was a single by the opposing pitcher, Jaime Garcia, a walk to third baseman Greg Garcia, and, once the bases were loaded, following a single by Cards' shortstop Aledmys Diaz, a walk to Matt Holliday that forced in a run in the at bat that preceded the four-run blast, that really hurt the Nationals' starter.
"Started off with the hit by the pitcher Garcia and then it was followed by the walk to Garcia," Nats' skipper Dusty Baker recounted after the 6-2 loss in the nation's capital.
"And then the shortstop [Diaz] had a very good at bat, I mean he hit a tough pitch. That one you've got to give him credit, because he hit a slider down and away.
"And then we had, I think 0-2 on the big boy, Holliday, and then lost him and just got a slider up on Piscotty, who's also a good hitter and that was really the whole inning."
Scherzer, while lamenting the two walks in the third, also mentioned the other two free passes he gave up when he talked about what went wrong after the outing.
"Of course I'm upset about the walks," he said.
"I'm actually more frustrated with the first two walks more than anything, because those can lead to dangerous innings when you have the leadoff walks, but I mean the walks in the third, I'm not going to beat myself up over those, cause I was in 0-2 counts and ended up walking them, it's more just indicative, I just didn't have putaway pitches at that point.
"I really didn't have my changeup going early in the game, every time I seemed like I threw it, it was leaking out and I was missing the zone the entire time with it and so as much as I want to be frustrated by those walks it's just more I need to focus on my putaway pitches more than the walks, so that's kind of how I see it."
"Everybody knows that Max throws strikes," Baker said, when asked about a home run hurting Scherzer again.
"There's really no explanation. It wasn't the home run pitch, it was the walks before the home run pitch.
"That's what really hurt and then he had to come -- probably was on his mind -- and probably had to come over the zone more than he wanted to."
Scherzer did, as mentioned previously, settle in nicely after the early walks and the rough third, retiring all fourteen batters he faced after the grand slam.
"I don't know what allowed me to get in sync," Scherzer said. "But after that third I found my changeup and was able to pitch with it and really was able to settle in and go deep into the game."
Should something change in his preparation to try to help Scherzer avoid early troubles in his starts?
Going into Friday night's game, opposing hitters had a .275/.383/.625 line against the right-hander in the first, with nine of the 28 runs he's allowed this season coming in the opening frames of his outings.
"You've got to ask Max and Mike Maddux that," Baker said. "Like most real good starters, you have got to get them early, for whatever reason. I really don't know.
"[But]... most of his troubles have been early, in the first couple innings or so, when he's not as sharp as he'd like to be. I don't know, you have to ask him that.
"Sometimes you change your pregame preparation, or you change your warm-up routine or something. I mean, usually when he gets a high pitch count it's early in the game, in the first couple innings. But he settled down.
"I was so glad he did, because we didn't want to go to our bullpen in that second or third inning, because we still have to pitch five days to go for an off day. At least he saved the majority of bullpen for the ensuing games."