In Washington’s 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves last night in SunTrust Park, Max Scherzer threw just 37 of 61 fastballs for strikes, 60.7% strike percentage, down from 70.2% and 73.2% in his previous two outings.
Scherzer and Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker both pointed to the right-hander’s lack of fastball command as the cause for his struggles in the less-than-stellar outing.
“He didn’t have his usual control,” Baker said. “Usually when he gets two strikes on a hitter, usually he puts them away.”
“Just couldn’t find a way to consistently throw strikes. Just deep counts on everybody,” Scherzer said.
His first walk of the day, a two-out free pass to Braves’ shortstop Dansby Swanson, was followed immediately by the first of two home runs he gave up.
He left a 2-2 fastball up for rookie infielder Rio Ruiz, who sent a line drive over the high brick wall in right field to put the home team up 2-0 early.
Two innings later, he left a 3-2 fastball up for Matt Kemp that ended up in the center field seats, 423 feet from home.
Scherzer hadn’t looked back at the pitches, but he said, he knew that both of them were, “... probably fastballs on the middle part of the plate. I know that on Kemp, pretty sure that was the case on Ruiz as well. I got to be better in those situations.”
And the walk before the Ruiz home run?
“Just symptoms of the similar stuff I was dealing with all day,” Scherzer said.
“Just wasn’t able to be in sync with my fastball, wasn’t able to locate that, and just was able to let him work his way into a hitter’s count and wasn’t able to throw a good 3-2 pitch, wasn’t able to locate a 3-2 fastball.”
“He had two strikes on the hitter and then walked him,” Baker said, “and then had two strikes on the young Ruiz and then got a ball out over the plate.”
Scherzer’s pitch count rose quickly, to 106 pitches overall after five, and he was done for the day even if rain hadn’t delayed the start of the sixth for close to two hours.
“Just couldn’t find a way to consistently throw strikes,” Scherzer said, summing up his struggles.
“Just deep counts on everybody. Just wasn’t able to go out there and give length.
“Didn’t have fastball command and just didn’t do a lot of things right today, a lot of things that are a staple of what I think makes a successful pitcher I just didn’t do.
“Never could find rhythm. I was talking to ‘Mad Dog’ [pitching coach Mike Maddux] in between innings just to try to find anything and nothing really seemed to stick, but at the end of the [day], there’s worse things in the world than to have that be — as frustrating as it is — to only give up three runs in that scenario, things could have been a lot worse. As Mad Dog says, ‘How good is your bad game?’”
The only thing that kept him in the game as long as he lasted, Scherzer explained, was that he had command of his slider.
Scherzer threw 22 of 33 sliders for strikes, 20 for strikes not put in play. He also got 15 swings and nine misses with the pitch.
“That was the only saving grace, the thing that kept me in the ballgame and kept us from blowing open was that I did have slider command, I was able to throw my slider for strikes, able to somehow locate that pitch, but this will be going back to the drawing board, figure out what I need to do mechanically and go and have a good pen, flush this out and have a good start next time.”