Max Scherzer struck out nine batters over six innings on Thursday afternoon, passing 200 Ks for the sixth straight season. It was a nice bounce back start for the now-33-year-old right-hander, who received what he described as “ungodly” run support in a 15-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on his 33rd birthday.
Scherzer tried to take the positives out of his five-inning, 97-pitch outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks last weekend.
Scherzer received no decision in what ended up a 6-5 loss in Chase Field, which saw the Washington Nationals’ ace extend a five-start unbeaten streak, over which he posted a 2.84 ERA, nine walks, 47 Ks, and a .181/.246/.371 line against.
He talked after the start about at least finishing strong, though he said he’d have liked to have gone at least gone six innings.
“If I would have pitched in the sixth, that feels better,” Scherzer told reporters.
“When you give your team five innings, you don’t really feel good about five innings, but you know, sometimes when — I’ve said this — when you have a good game, the last 15 pitches, kind of determines how you feel, well the last 15 pitches today were good, so sometimes you’ve got to take that and move on.
“Guys battled today, found a way to tie that ballgame. We’re right there. We’re right there and nothing is broken here, we’re in a good place to compete.”
Milwaukee started the series finale in D.C. on Thursday with an NL-leading 1,003 Ks as a team, so they seemed like a good matchup for Scherzer, who took the mound with an NL-best 192 strikeouts in 193 1⁄3 IP on the year (12.40 K/9).
He picked up his first strikeout with a 3-2 change to Brewers’ leadoff man Eric Sogard, and added another K with a 2-2 change to Domingo Santana that dropped out of the zone.
Hernan Perez went down swinging at a 1-2 slider inside for Scherzer’s third strikeout in the second, and Jonathan Villar fouled off a 2-2 change, but went down swinging over a second consecutive change for K No. 4.
Michael Blazek had no chance on a 2-2 slider outside, K No. 5. Sogard took a 2-2 fastball for a called strike three, Scherzer’s sixth K, and the third out of the Nats’ starter’s third hitless frame.
With the Nationals up 9-0 after a ridiculous, and ridiculously long major-league mark-tying five-home run third inning inning which saw Brian Goodwin, Wilmer Difo, Bryce Harper, and Ryan Zimmerman hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back HRs before Anthony Rendon went deep one out later, Scherzer came back out and gave up his first hit and run in a 15-pitch fourth that left him at 68 pitches.
It was 15-1 when Scherzer took the mound in the fifth, and threw a 95 mph 2-2 heater by Jonathan Villar for K No. 7. An 0-2 fastball got Wily Peralta looking. K No. 8, and 200 on the season.
Scherzer threw a 95 mph fastball outside by Domingo Santana for the second out of the Brewers’ sixth and his ninth K of the game, and a 28-pitch inning left him at 109 pitches overall. That was it for Max.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 9 Ks, 1 HR, 109 P, 70 S, 3/5 GO/FO.
The defending NL Cy Young winner also went 1 for 1 with an infield single and two walks on the day, which might have had him more excited than anything else the game.
“I told everybody about that, I didn’t make an out today,” Scherzer said. “I don’t know if that’s ever happened for me.”
Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker was asked if he thought, after watching Scherzer hustle to first for the single, if he hoped that maybe the starter would have taken it a little bit easier.
“No, not really,” Baker said. “How do you Max to dial it back? You know what I mean?
“I mean, if you smell a hit, especially as hits are as rare to come by being a pitcher and being Max, I mean that’s Max he’s just Max being Max and so we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Scherzer also likes strikeouts, Baker said. He ended the night with a NL-leading 201 Ks overall, ten shy of the major league lead, behind only Chris Sale (211).
“He likes to strike out people,” Baker told reporters, “and we like to see him striking out people. Max is a hard worker. This guy, every time he takes the mound you know that we’ve got a chance to win and the fact that he’s probably not going to give up a lot of runs, which is indicative of his ERA, which is 2.2-something [2.23].
“We’d like to get Max to 20 [wins] again,” Baker continued, “but he struggled a little bit there in the fifth and sixth, and we figured that was enough, especially with the lead that we had and tried to piece the rest of it together.”
Scherzer said he made some adjustments after the outing in Arizona, and saw positive results.
“Made a couple tweaks of what I was anticipating from their lineup today,” Scherzer explained, “and had a good plan.”
“Was able to really work both sides of the plate today with [Jose Lobaton]. He did a great job back there, sucking some balls up and getting me some low strikes, and that really helps when you can get those low strikes, and I was able to throw some — all of the off-speed pitches kind of off of that, and really stayed out of trouble today, and when I can do that and I get run support, this team, we can beat anybody.”