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Nats Nightly: Max Scherzer thinks strikeouts are sexy; flirts with perfection in Nationals' win over Cubs

Max Scherzer was perfect through five before he gave up a solo home run by Chicago Cubs' shortstop Addison Russell. Scherzer ended up striking out 11 in the Washington Nationals' 4-1 over Cubbies.

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Washington Nationals' starter Max Scherzer gave up a season-high seven runs on seven hits, four of them home runs, when he faced the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field in May.

Nats' skipper Dusty Baker said the problem for Scherzer in that outing was "improper location" of his pitches, some of which, "were a little bit up in the middle of the plate."

"I don't care who you are," he said. "If you're not locating the ball, especially the fastball, then you're going to get hit."

"They've got a great team over there and a great lineup and I remember that. They beat my brains in last time and I wanted to come out there and take my shot at them..." -Max Scherzer on rematch with the Cubs

Scherzer was up and down in his starts after that outing in Chicago, striking out 20 to tie the MLB record for strikeouts in a nine-inning masterpiece in the turn in the rotation that followed his rough night against the Cubs and posting a 2.58 ERA, with 10 walks (1.20 BB/9), 61 Ks (12.11 K/9) and a .175/.228/.331 line against over six starts and 45 ⅓ IP between starts against the Cubbies.

So would Scherzer be able to make the necessary adjustments when he faced the NL-leaders again last night?

Baker told reporters before the game that if anyone could, it would be Scherzer.

"This guy is a student, and above all he knows himself. And he asks a lot of -- he asks more questions than anybody in the dugout -- well he talks more than anybody in the dugout, No. 1. But he asks more questions and he asks intelligent questions. I hear him talking to [Assistant Hitting Coach] Jacque Jones, and talking to [Hitting Coach] Rick Schu and he'll come ask me something. He's inquisitive. And he's a perfectionist. As long as he stays healthy, man, this guy is going to be good for a long time."

In his second shot at the Cubs, Scherzer dominated, striking out five of the first six batters he faced, then eight of the first nine.

He was up to nine Ks from the first 12 hitters he faced after four scoreless and he retired the first 15 overall before leaving a 3-2 slider up in the zone for Cubs' shortstop Addison Russell, who hit a solo shot to left, tying things up at 1-1 in what ended up a 4-1 win for Scherzer and the Nationals.

Scherzer collected 11 Ks total in seven innings of work in which he threw 96 pitches and allowed just two hits.

So what was different this time around for Scherzer after he struggled against the Cubs in Wrigley?

"Well, you know, he was getting strike one," Baker told reporters after the Nationals snapped a six-game losing streak against the Cubs.

"He was getting strike one. He had control of all his pitches. He had a heck of a slider and tremendous changeup. He was working fast and he kept our defense on alert." -Dusty Baker on Max Scherzer vs the Cubs in D.C.

"He had control of all his pitches. He had a heck of a slider and tremendous changeup. He was working fast and he kept our defense on alert. And we made some very good defensive plays. We played a very good game."

Scherzer said he definitely went in with the last start against Chicago on his mind.

"They've got a great team over there and a great lineup and I remember that," Scherzer admitted.

"They beat my brains in last time and I wanted to come out there and take my shot at them. And tonight, I really felt like I had some good stuff with the fastball and all the offspeed pitches were working the way they needed to. Wasn't quite as efficient as I wanted to [be], wasn't able to dump in the early curveballs like the way I usually like to, but even when I was behind in the count, still found a way to make pitches, to keep them off-balance and then still let the fastball work."

"[Wilson Ramos] and I did a great job of sequencing back there which led to a successful game."

So... when Scherzer was perfect through five, were he and his manager starting to consider the possibilities?

"If he's done it once, then you know he can do it again," Baker said. "And so, yeah, you allow yourself to think it. You don't talk about it, but you think it and he was awesome to start the game, and he only made really one mistake -- to Addison Russell, he hung a slider and that was the only mistake he made."

"I knew if I get through six, you've got a shot," Scherzer said.

"And so it was a matter of trying to get through Russell there to get to the pitcher that if I got through there, you know I always say, if you get through six innings, you've got a shot. And unfortunately I hung a slider and it didn't happen."

• We talked about Scherzer's outing and the Nationals' big win over the Cubs after the game on Nats Nightly: