Max Scherzer extended his unbeaten streak to eleven-straight starts with an eight-inning outing against the Tampa Bay Rays last week, striking out 13 of the 28 batters he faced in what ended up a 99-pitch effort by the Washington Nationals’ ace.
Both managers came away from that game impressed with what they’d seen from the Nats’ 33-year-old righty.
“From the other side, you see him and you say: ‘Wow, every fifth day, he’s really good,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, “... but to see him every day, he’s the best. He really is.”
On the other side last week, Rays’ skipper Kevin Cash, who said he’d rarely seen anything like Scherzer throw 81 of 99 pitches to his team for strikes.
“Guys just don’t do that,” Cash said. “There’s a lot of good pitchers in this league, but for a guy to just sit there and pound the strike zone the way he did and not give up hard hits, it’s really telling about how special of a pitcher he is.”
“Max is a different breed,” Martinez said before Sunday’s series finale with the San Francisco Giants.
“He really is. Like I said, everybody gets to see him every fifth day, but I get to see him every day and what he does in the gym and what he does to prepare himself for that fifth day, and it’s incredible. It really is.”
Scherzer struck out six batters in three scoreless on Sunday afternoon, in six consecutive at bats, after two runners reached with two out in the first. He gave up a leadoff walk to Pablo Sandoval in the fourth, however, and a two-run homer to right field by Brandon Crawford in the next at bat as the Giants jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
After working around a leadoff double in the fifth and one-out double in the sixth, Scherzer was up to 94 pitches, but he came back out for the seventh and worked around a walk in a scoreless, 19-pitch frame that left him at 113 pitches total on the day.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 9 Ks, 1 HR, 113 P, 72 S, 5/1 GO/FO.
Crawford was on a roll coming into the series finale with the Nationals, with hits in 30 of 35 games since May 1st, and a major league-best .422 AVG over that stretch (54 for 128), which saw him hit 14 doubles and five home runs, and he added four hits in the third of three with the Nats in D.C., singling to right the first time up, homering the second time up against the defending, back-to-back, NL Cy Young award winner, and doubling again in the sixth for his third hit in three at bats against Scherzer.
He added a double to left off of Matt Grace in the Giants’ eighth, and finished the game a triple short of the cycle.
“I threw good pitches to him,” Scherzer told reporters after the Nationals’ 2-0 loss. “He put great swings on them. He wins, I lose. That’s as simple as that. He’s hot. I have to be better than him. And today he was great, and tip your hat and move on.”
“Max pitched really well,” Martinez said. “He made one mistake, but we’ve got to score runs to win.”
Scherzer talked after his last few outings about a mechanical tweak he made in his delivery that had him more on line, pounding the strike zone, and working ahead in the count.
Was that all still working?
“Yeah, at least I was still attacking the zone,” Scherzer said.
“First-pitch strikes were there,” he explained, “but the walks, Pablo, he’s always hit me well, had to make good pitches against him, unfortunately I fell behind in some counts. You walk him and then Crawford hits a bomb, and that’s how quickly it can happen, especially how they’re playing, two runs, that can be the difference in a game and it was.
“That just shows you how fine of a line it is when you’re playing a hot team like they are, and they’re playing great baseball, and they’re getting it done on the mound, getting it done in the pen, and offensively, so I knew it was going to be a battle, knew it was going to be a grind, and they did their job today, so they won the series, tip your hat and move on.”