St. Louis, Missouri-born starter Max Scherzer took the mound Sunday night in Busch Stadium with a streak of seven straight starts over which he allowed two earned runs or less.
Scherzer had a 1.00 ERA over that stretch, with eight walks (1.33 BB/9), 75 Ks (12.50 K/9), and a .121/.184/.209 line against in 54 innings pitched.
After throwing 121 pitches in an eight-inning outing as he tried for a no-hitter against Miami, Scherzer threw just 93 pitches over six innings last time out before he faced the Cardinals, in what ended up a 6-1 win over the Chicago Cubs.
“He didn’t have his A+ stuff, you could tell,” Dusty Baker told reporters after that win.
“[Pitching coach] Mike [Maddux] said he didn’t warm up very good in the bullpen, and then early in the game you could see he was off, but he found a way to go six innings, which is big.”
“I made what I had work tonight,” Scherzer said.
“I didn’t really have great fastball command tonight, but I was able to use my offspeed to collect outs when I needed to, and I didn’t walk anybody.”
Scherzer took the mound in St. Louis, on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, with a two-run lead courtesy of a two-run home run by Bryce Harper in the top of the first, and struck out the side in a dominant, 14-pitch, 10-strike frame.
He was up four straight Ks after he got Jedd Gyorko swinging with a 1-2 changeup in the first at bat of the Cards’ second, and had five strikeouts from the first six batters after Randal Grichuk K’d swinging through a 97 mph 1-2 fastball to end the bottom of the second.
Greg Garcia ended any potential no-hitter drama with a leadoff single in the third, but Alex Mejia went down swinging at an 0-2 slider for Scherzer’s sixth K and the first out of the inning, and Carlos Martinez missed a 1-2 slider outside for K No. 7 and out No. 2 of what ended up a scoreless, 10-pitch third.
Stephen Piscotty chased a 2-2 changeup out of the zone outside for Scherzer’s 8th K and the first out of the fourth, after an E:3 on Adam Lind put the leadoff batter on in the home-half of the frame.
With two on and two out after Anthony Rendon booted a potential double play ground ball to third base, but got an out at first, Scherzer got Grichuk swinging with a 96 mph 3-2 fastball for out No. 3 of the fourth scoreless frame and K No. 9 of the game.
Scherzer, ESPN’s Buster Olney noted, was up to 56 pitches and 17 swings and misses at that point.
Alex Mejia K’d swinging at a 3-2 changeup for the second out of the Cards’ fifth and Scherzer’s 10th K, and after a two-out single, Matt Carpenter flew out to deep right, ending a 16-pitch inning that left Scherzer at 72 pitches overall.
Scherzer got up 1-2 on Jedd Gyorko with a runner on and one out, and got his 22nd swinging strike on an 86 mph 2-2 changeup. 11 Ks.
Yadier Molina went down swinging at a 94 mph 2-2 heater outside for Scherzer’s 12th K on the 23rd swinging strike on Scherzer’s 90th pitch.
His night ended with a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh that left him at 100 pitches total.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 12 Ks, 100 P, 66 S, 5/3 GO/FO.
Scherzer ended the night with 23 swinging strikes total, eight off his four-seamer, six on his changeup and nine with his slider.
Out of the 66 strikes, 54 were not put in play, according to Brooksbaseball.
Scherzer helped the Nats’ snap a three-game slide, which is part of his job description according to his skipper.
“Guys like he and Kershaw, the top pitchers in baseball, that’s what they’re supposed to do,” Baker said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“They’re paid handsomely to do it. And they take pride in doing that, stopping streaks.
“When he comes out throwing strikes and has everything working they were in trouble," Baker told reporters, as quoted MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch and Alaina Getzenberg, “... unless somebody popped one with a walk, or something like that.”
Scherzer ended the night with a 1.94 ERA, the only pitcher in the Major Leagues with an ERA below 2.00, as the Nationals noted. He reached 10+ Ks for the tenth time this season, in his 17th start, after hitting that mark 13 times in 34 starts on his way to the NL Cy Young Award last season.
He also learned he’d be making his fifth straight All-Star roster before the start of the game in Busch Stadium.