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Washington Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer struggles in 7-1 loss to Atlanta Braves...

Max Scherzer struggled to put hitters away this afternoon, and he threw 110 pitches in just five innings as the Nationals dropped their series finale with the Braves, 7-1.

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MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer tossed six scoreless innings in his 2018 debut last Friday in Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, working around five hits and a walk and striking out 10 of the 24 batters he faced in what ended up a 2-0 season-opening win.

As the right-hander explained it after the game, he and catcher Matt Wieters went in with a solid game plan and executed it.

“I thought we just had a really good game plan of what pitches to throw,” Scherzer said, “and how to sequence guys.”

“We had a really good plan, and Wieters did a great job behind the plate, just calling, mixing between in and out, hard and soft, and just did a good job of not making any mistakes and working on the edges and avoiding a big inning. It was tight there, 1-0, in this ballpark you can’t make mistakes, and you’ve got to keep executing pitches in those situations, and that’s what I said, we had a plan, Wieters called it, and I executed it.”

In start No. 2, Scherzer had Pedro Severino behind the plate, with Wieters on the 10-Day DL with an oblique issue.

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Scherzer fell behind early this afternoon, giving up a two-out double by Freddie Freeman, who hit a 3-1 fastball off the base of the wall in right, took third on an error by Wilmer Difo, on what should have been an inning-ending groundout, and scored on a three-run home run to right by Preston Tucker, who took a hanging curve for a ride, putting Atlanta up 3-0 in the first inning of the series finale in SunTrust Park.

Scherzer kept the Braves off the board through the third inning, but a two-out, two-run line drive double to left field by the opposing pitcher, Mike Foltynewicz added to the lead, 5-1, and the Nationals’ starter was up to 88 pitches after four, and 110 pitches after he stranded two batters in a 22-pitch fifth that ended his outing.

Max Scherzer’s Line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 110 P, 71 S, 2/5 GO/FO.

Asked, after what ended up a 7-1 loss, what he saw from Scherzer, who didn’t look sharp, and, a reporter noted, seemed to be struggling with his mechanics more than usual, and had trouble putting hitters away, Davey Martinez, said he saw things a little differently.

“I thought -- you saw Max not being Max — but I saw Max grinding it out and showing his competitiveness,” Martinez told reporters in Atlanta.

“He didn’t give in. He left a couple pitches up, and he talked about it. But you saw Max get to 110 pitches and grind it out and try to keep us in the game.”

“I didn’t have good putaway pitches,” Scherzer said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr.

“I got to two strikes, and just didn’t seem to put guys away. That led to at bats kind of getting extended. They were able to grind out their at bats, and get hits on pitches that later in the at bat. I didn’t execute as well.

“Kudos to them [for] grinding me apart, understanding what I’m trying to do.”

Though the right-hander was up to 88 pitches after four innings, Martinez said he didn’t hesitate or think twice about sending the Nationals’ ace back out for the fifth inning.

“We have open lines of communication and we talk all the time,” he explained, “... and he’s pretty good about that, you know, and we thought today would be a day for him to go 110 pitches, which he finished on the nose.”

Scherzer’s third start is scheduled for next week, when the Braves come to Washington for a three-game set in Nationals Park.

“We’ll make some adjustments and go right back after them,” Scherzer said. “This is what happens when you face divisional teams this much.”