“I know it looked ugly,” Dusty Baker told reporters after leaving Max Scherzer in even after Washington’s starter gave up three straight walks and was up to 114 pitches in the seventh inning of what was then a 2-2 game with Atlanta’s Braves in the nation’s capital.
Baker stuck with Scherzer for 116 pitches total in spite of the fact that the Nationals’ ace appeared to hit a wall in what ended up an 8-2 loss after a six-run inning for the Braves.
“It looked ugly to you, it looked ugly to us, and the fans and everybody else,” Baker acknowledged.
“But if you have a game plan then you want to stick with it as much and as long as you can.”
The game plan as Baker explained it, “... was to stretch [Scherzer] out some, because he’s on six days’ [rest] his next time out, so that was the game plan.”
“We wanted to take him out but you’ve got to stick with the game plan,” the Nats’ skipper said.
“We were thinking long run versus short run. You could see he lost his command, and even before that we didn’t play a very good ballgame.
“We didn’t really help Max out too much on defense. A couple times it led to runs, and it was just an ugly night period.”
Scherzer tossed four scoreless on 64 pitches, striking out five of the first 15 batters he faced as the Nationals jumped out to a 1-0 lead, but a “triple” to left by Lane Adams in the fifth, on a misplayed fly to Howie Kendrick, led to the Braves’ first run when Ozzie Albies hit a two-out RBI triple to tie things up at 1-1.
Scherzer’s second walk of the night, in the sixth inning, led to the Braves’ second run, but only after the Nats failed to turn a double play when second baseman Wilmer Difo bobbled a grounder from Nick Markakis and settled for an out at first instead of a 4-6-3 DP.
Tyler Flowers hit an RBI double to right in the next at bat and the visiting team took a 2-1 lead.
With the scored tied at 2-2 in the seventh, after Difo made up for his gaffe with an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, Scherzer walked the first two batters he faced to put him at 109 pitches overall... then issued a third walk that loaded the bases on his 114th pitch.
Dansby Swanson followed with a two-run single to left before the Nationals finally got Scherzer out of there with the score 4-2 Braves.
“He had run out of gas,” Baker said. “But like I said, I mean, our game plan — I wanted to go get him, but our game plan was to stretch him out, cause I said, he has six days’ rest this time, and so we were thinking long run and big picture in case we get in that scenario in the playoffs.”
Scherzer was, of course, in on the plan.
“With the postseason coming into play,” Scherzer said, “with an extra day coming up, kind of asked, I said I thought it would be a good idea to try to get me 110, 115, 120 pitch count range tonight.”
“I thought that would benefit me going forward, and then looking into the postseason to pitch with some extra fatigue, and usually I’ve been able to do that in the past, but because of all the little injuries I’ve been dealing with I haven’t been able to get past 100 pitches for quite a while. So I knew that was important for me, going into the start tonight to try to get to that level.”
In three starts back off a DL stint for a neck issue, Scherzer had thrown 100, 75, and 104 pitches, respectively, in seven, five and six-inning outings. He started the top of the seventh on Wednesday at 97 pitches, and tired quickly.
“That’s where I showed some rust tonight,” he said. “For the first 100 pitches, I felt like I was executing pitches the way I wanted to, and then tonight, after pitch 100, that’s when kind of the wheels fell off and I was searching for everything.
“Sometimes that happens, you can just learn from this. I don’t think anything is broken, my arm feels fine, there’s nothing wrong here, but this is why I needed to pitch that deep into the game, so that I can shake off some of this rust so that later in the year here I’m able to be strong all the way through 110 pitches.”
As for the results?
Max Scherzer’s Line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 6 BB, 7 Ks, 116 P, 74 S, 4/5 GO/FO.
Was Scherzer happy to get his work in even after things went all pear-shaped in the end?
“My arm has been feeling so good,” he said. “I feel so fresh right now. It’s weird to be fresh in September, but yeah, I’m never going to sit here and say I love going out and walking guys, even in the seventh inning, but look, I got something out of it, I pushed my pitch count deep. Even though I wasn’t throwing strikes, and my offspeed pitches weren’t sharp there in the seventh, I took a step forward to where I need to be for the postseason, and that’s all you can really ask for.”