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Max Scherzer leads Nationals to second straight over Giants in AT&T Park

“This guy can smell the finish line, he can smell blood,” Dusty Baker said after Nationals’ starter Max Scherzer shut the Giants down in the Nats’ second straight win in San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Francisco Giants John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Over his last ten starts before Friday night’s outing against the San Francisco Giants in AT&T Park, Washington Nationals’ right-hander Max Scherzer was (5-2) with a 1.71 ERA, 13 walks (1.71 BB/9) and 91 Ks (11.99 K/9) in 68 ⅓ innings pitched, over which he’d held opposing hitters to a combined .165/.213/.289 line.

Scherzer allowed 2 ER or less in 9 of those 10 outings, settling in after an up-and-down start to his second season in D.C.

He allowed just one run in seven innings of work on the mound against the Giants, improving to (W, 11-6) on the year in what ended up a 4-1 win for the Nats.

Dusty Baker told reporters before Scherzer’s last start (a seven-inning outing vs San Diego in which he gave up four hits and 2 ER, striking out 10) that he was impressed with Scherzer’s competitive nature as much as anything else.

"Max is -- he's a competitor," Baker said. "That's what I love about Max. He loves to compete. He loves a big stage. He feels he's like one of the elite pitchers in this league, which he is. It's taken Max a couple years to get to this point, but once you find the formula on how to do it, then I think he's found the formula. The only thing is we've got to find a way to get Max through the first couple innings without his pitch count going up."

San Francisco’s hitters got Scherzer’s pitch count up early tonight with a few long frames to start the game.

Back-to-back, two-out hits in the second put the Giants up early, with Gregor Blanco, who improved to 6 for 11 career vs Scherzer, driving Conor Gillaspie in from second after Gillaspie hit a line drive double into the left-center gap, 1-0.

Scherzer was up to 48 pitches in the third, after a single by Denard Span and a double to right-center by Angel Pagan put runners on second and third with one out.

Both runners were stranded, but the 19-pitch frame left Scherzer at 57 pitches total after three.

A quick, 15-pitch fifth pushed Scherzer up to 72 pitches in what was at that point a 1-1 game, and he came back out after the Nationals took a 3-1 lead and retired the side in order for the first time on the night.

Scherzer was up to eight-straight Giants set down after a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth that left him at 94 pitches.

That streak of retired batters ended at nine, with a two-out walk to Blanco in the seventh, on his 107th pitch, but Scherzer stranded the only Giants’ runner to reach base against him after the 4th at the end a 22-pitch seventh that pushed him up to 116 total and ended his night.

Max Scherzer vs the Giants: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 Ks, 116 P, 81 S, 4/6 GO/FO.

"Once we got that lead, he knows how to smell the finish line," Baker said after the Nationals’ 4-1 win, "which is why he has a couple of no-hitters. This guy can smell the finish line, he can smell blood, and when you get him the lead, he knows what to do with it."

The Nationals needed a triple play to escape a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the eighth and they pieced together the ninth with Felipe Rivero and Shawn Kelley finishing the Giants off in the Nats’ second straight win in AT&T Park.