Max Scherzer looked like Max Scherzer for most of his 2017 debut this afternoon in Citizens Bank Ballpark.
Scherzer retired the first ten Philadelphia Phillies he faced before giving up a hit, and he took a shutout into the sixth inning before Cesar Hernandez doubled to center with one down, scoring when Odubel Herrera hit a two-out single to right one out later.
Dusty Baker sent the defending NL Cy Young winner back out for the seventh with a 7-1 lead, but that’s when things went pear-shaped for the 32-year-old right-hander.
Scherzer walked back-to-back batters on eight pitches and only recorded the first out of the frame when a passed ball bounced off the backstop right back to catcher Matt Wieters, who cut the lead runner down at third base.
Scherzer struck Cameron Rupp out for the second out of the inning, but was lifted for lefty reliever Sammy Solis, who gave up an RBI double by Freddy Galvis that made it 7-2 and added a second earned run to Scherzer’s line.
“We were trying to hopefully get him through that [seventh] inning,” Baker said after what ended up a nail-biter of a 7-6 win.
“But when he lost control of the strike zone and started throwing high, that’s not like Max to walk people and we got a fortunate bounce on that passed ball, that was big — it ended up being a big part of the game.”
“Max was dealing. And he got a hit too, which he’s very proud of,” Baker joked.
“There were some good things that came out of this start,” Scherzer told reporters after earning his first win of the year.
“I was able to locate my fastball to both sides of the plate,” he said.
“I thought that was good. But there’s some things I can improve upon. I need to throw more first-pitch strikes. Those numbers were down. Those two walks right there at the end, that’s just going to eat at you.”
“That seventh inning, yeah, I know we had a big lead,” Scherzer added, “but that’s when you’re at the end of the line and that’s when you’ve got to finish your starts. And you can’t go out there and throw ball four, ball eight.
“There were a lot of good things Wieters and I were able to accomplish today and it’s always great when the team gets the win.”
Scherzer was asked if he just hit a wall, or if it was fatigue late in the outing that led to his seventh inning struggles.
“No. That’s what’s so weird,” he said, explaining that it wasn’t fatigue.
“I was strong. Actually when you pitch in cold weather games, it’s hard to use a lot of your reserves. I was just very strong, considering that this was my first outing at 100 pitches, I felt great there in the seventh.”
Baker said as strong as Scherzer looked on the mound, he wasn’t ready to put all the preparedness concerns behind them just yet, after the right-hander got off to a late start this Spring as he recovered from the well-documented stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger.
“Not really. Cause usually Max would have closed out that inning. It just shows he’s not quite all the way back shape-wise,” Baker said.
“Cause you usually don’t go and get Max in that situation, but when he walked the two guys on eight pitches and all wild and high... he’s almost ready.”
Washington improved to 9-1 in their last ten games in Philadelphia’s home park with the win, and Scherzer improved to (8-1) in 12 career starts against the Phillies.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 Ks, 98 P, 60 S, 4/4 GO/FO.