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.