Max Scherzer was never able to get comfortable on the mound in his start against the Atlanta Braves last weekend in SunTrust Park.
He ended up giving up four hits, two of them home runs, three walks and three earned runs in five innings, over which he threw 106 pitches, 62 of them for strikes.
“Just couldn’t find a way to consistently throw strikes,” Scherzer told reporters after the loss. “Just deep counts on everybody.”
A 29-pitch second and 31-pitch fourth bumped his pitch count up and Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker went to the bullpen in the home-half of the sixth inning.
Scherzer wasn’t surprised he was lifted at that point.
“They knew I was battling myself. I think I was done after the five innings that I did everything I could do to save.”
Since he’s been known to voice his opinion at times when his managers have gone out to talk about coming out of a game, Chris Speier, who was filling in on the bench for Dusty Baker tonight, was asked before the series opener with San Diego if he worried at all about potentially having to take the ball from his starter.
“I’m hoping we don’t get there,” Speier joked, “I’m looking for a nine-inning complete game, it may take 200 pitches, but he’s in there.”
Scherzer ended up being much more efficient than that, and he almost got through nine.
He was sharp early tonight, striking out five of the first ten San Diego batters he faced on 36 pitches, and holding the Padres to one hit over the first three innings.
Ryan Schimpf went down low in the zone and golfed a 1-2 changeup out to right for a solo shot in the fourth, tying things up at 1-1, but the Nationals retook the lead a half-inning later when Michael A. Taylor took Padres’ right-hander Luis Perdom deep to left-center for a two-run home run, 3-1.
Scherzer was up to 18 Ks and 72 pitches after he struck out two batters in a 1-2-3 sixth inning, and 81 pitches and nine Ks after he added a strikeout in a quick, nine-pitch, 1-2-3 top of the seventh.
He added his 10th K in the first at bat of the eighth, reaching double digit strikeouts for the 53rd time in his career, and collected his 11th in a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 frame that left him at 91 pitches.
Scherzer came back out for the ninth and recorded his 12th K, but a one-out single ended a streak of 14-straight set down, and a four-pitch walk brought Speier to the mound.
After a brief [seemingly polite] conversation, he left Scherzer in to face Wil Myers with two on and one out and the Nationals’ ace struck Myers out with a 97 mph 0-2 heater for his 13th K, then hit Ryan Schimpf with a 2-2 fastball to load the bases and end his outing.
Max Scherzer’s Line vs Padres: 8.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 13 Ks, 108 P, 81 S, 8/2 GO/FO.
Max: "How many times in May do you really want to extend me past 110 pitches? They knew what was going on. They made the right decision."— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) May 27, 2017
Koda Glover came on for the one-out save an wrapped up the Nationals’ 5-1 win.
Speier was asked about the two conversations, when he talked to Scherzer and then when he lifted him.
Scherzer let him know he wanted to stay in the first time they talked, but didn’t put up a fight on Speier’s second trip to the mound.
“The second time no,” Speier said. “The first time was he wanted it. I would have been booed like crazy had I taken him and the thought about a complete game entered my mind, so I gave him an opportunity to try.”
What did the fill-in manager see from Scherzer?
“He had a good fastball, but his slider and his changeup were devastating to the right-handed hitters, really to everybody,” Speier told reporters, “but he had command, look at his pitch count. There wasn’t a lot of foul balls, a lot of swing and misses, so when he was dealing with that slider and changeup that makes it really good on us.”
Scherzer got 21 swings and six misses with his fastball (12.5%), eleven swings and five misses with his changeup (33.3%), 22 swings and 13 misses with his slider (40.6%), and five swings and one miss with his curveball (7.7%).
“I’m really not an analytical guy,” Speier said, when asked about the amount of strikes Scherzer was throwing overall, “I see swings and misses, those are the things that I like to look at. But like I said, I think when you watch him, and he’s got that special ability that something really great is going to happen, striking out 20, a no-hitter, that’s the kind of stuff he had tonight.”