Coming off a seven inning outing against Arizona’s Diamondbacks in Washington, D.C. which saw him strike out eleven of the twenty-six batters he faced while limiting the D-Backs to one run on two hits, Max Scherzer took the mound Tuesday night in Oriole Park at Camden Yards looking to help the Nationals avoid losing a third straight game.
Since joining the Nationals, Scherzer was (2-1) with a 2.31 ERA against the Orioles, with his lone start in OPACY as a member of the Nats’ rotation, an 8 2⁄3-inning one in July of 2015 in which he gave up four hits and two earned runs in a 3-2 win.
Scherzer entered last night’s game (4-2) in six starts this season with a 2.66 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 11 walks (2.43 BB/9), 51 Ks (11.29 K/9) and a .179/.248/.322 line against in 40 2⁄3 IP.
Before the outing against the O’s, Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker was asked about Scherzer’s ability to limit hard contact thus far this season and how he’s done it.
The defending NL Cy Young award winner had the lowest percentage of hard contact in the National League, among all pitchers, at just 20.2%, and seventh-lowest BABIP in the NL, among starters.
So how has he been avoiding the hard contact?
“I hope that ain’t the kiss of death,” Baker joked, knocking on wood to reverse the potential jinx before Scherzer took the mound in home run friendly Oriole Park.
“I don’t know,” the veteran skipper continued, “mainly because he either avoids good contact or they make super-contact, which is sometimes prone to a homer, but most of the time they’re solos.”
Three of five home runs Scherzer allowed before last night came with runners on base, but only 13 of his NL leading 31 homers allowed last season came with runners on.
“The main thing is he mixes pitches well,” Baker said.
“He has a great idea what he’s doing. He has a great idea about how to pitch. He has a game plan when he goes into every game and he knows just what to do.
“A great pitcher — usually the great pitchers know how to get out of trouble.”
There was one particularly tough matchup for Scherzer in the Orioles’ lineup tonight, Baker noted.
“There’s one guy over here, Adam Jones, that kind of gives [Scherzer] the blues,” he said.
Jones started the night 12 for 28 (.429/.429/.857) with three doubles and three home runs in 28 plate appearances against Scherzer in their respective careers.
Scherzer started the outing against the Orioles with a leadoff walk, then proceeded to retire the next 14 batters he faced before issuing his second free pass of the evening in the fifth.
The Nationals’ ace took a no-hit bid and a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning in Oriole Park, but the nascent no-hitter ended on a 1-1 change to Seth Smith, who hit a line drive home run to right field that tied the game up at 1-1, and it stayed tied until the top of the eighth, when Adam Lind hit a pinch hit, three-run home run to put the Nats ahead, 4-1.
Adam Jones, who was 0 for 3 to that point, finally got to Scherzer in the bottom of the eighth, connecting on a first-pitch slider and sending a second solo homer to left that made it a 4-2 game.
That home run earned the Nationals’ starter a visit on the mound, from Baker though, not Nats’ pitching coach Mike Maddux, and Scherzer let his manager know, in no uncertain terms, that he could finish the inning, which he did, retiring Manny Machado on his 113th pitch of the night.
Baker was asked after the game, a 5-4 loss to the Orioles in extra innings, if he was out there to lift Scherzer after the Jones’ homer, and if his pitcher convinced him to leave him in.
“He didn’t convince me,” Baker said.
“It was a look. I go by how you look in your eyes and how you look in your face.”
“Sometimes you see tiredness,” Baker added, “sometimes you see fear and sometimes you see determination, and I saw determination, and that was good enough for me.”
“I knew the situation in the game,” Scherzer said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr after the game.
“I knew with a two-run lead that I still had the pitches left to face Machado. I knew how I pitched him and knew that I had enough in the tank to face him. So he basically came out just to see how I was doing. I told him I was good.”
Scherzer didn’t tell him, “I was good,” of course, but he got his message across:
How can you not love Max Scherzer? Doesn't take a top lip reader to figure this one out pic.twitter.com/sChcxhamQb— David Malitz (@malitzd) May 10, 2017
In hindsight, after the Nationals’ bullpen let another one get away and the Nats lost in extras, did Baker regret letting Scherzer face Jones, who had a history of success, and made it a little tighter?
“If there had been somebody on base, he wasn’t going to face Jones because he’s hit him in the past,” Baker said, “but you’ve got to get your nemesis out some time.
“He got him out pretty good tonight, and certainly that’s not what cost us the game.”