Max Scherzer was winless in three outings heading into Tuesday’s finale with Tampa Bay’s Rays, who were the last team he beat, when he tossed eight strong against them back on June 5th in the nation’s capital.
Scherzer struck out 13 of the 28 batters he faced in that outing, giving up just five hits and two earned runs.
In the three turns in the rotation that followed, Scherzer held opposing teams to two runs each, in back-to-back 2-0 losses to the Giants and Blue Jays, and a 4-2 Nationals’ win over the Orioles in which he received no decision.
The final result was all that mattered, Scherzer said, after giving up two solo home runs in the win over the O’s.
“We won the ballgame. That’s what matters. That’s my job as a starting pitcher, pitch deep into the ballgame, and give the team a chance to win. Two solo home runs, turn the page, move on from it,” Scherzer said.
Scherzer didn’t give up any home runs, or many fly balls at all on Tuesday afternoon in the second of two for the Nats in Tropicana Field.
Two singles set the Rays up for their first run, which came in on a force play at second on a Jake Bauers’ grounder, with Kevin Kiermaier scoring from third after both he and Matt Duffy singled to start the bottom of the first, 1-0.
Scherzer held the Rays to one run through five, but Tampa Bay righty Nathan Eovaldi held Washington hitless over 5 2⁄3 innings on the mound before Bryce Harper lined a double to left, inches from a home run. Harper was stranded one batter later, however.
A quick, six-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth pushed Scherzer up to 88 pitches overall, but back-to-back singles by C.J. Cron and Daniel Robertson started the Rays’ half of the seventh and a bunt moved the runners into scoring position with one out.
Scherzer got Adeiny Hechavarria swinging with a 1-2 slider for out No. 2, pounding his first into his glove after the shortstop chased, and a pop to foul territory off third got the Nats’ ace out of one last jam, but the Nationals, in spite of the fact that they loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth, failed to provide any run-support in what ended up a 1-0 loss.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 Ks, 104 P 63 S, 8/3 GO/FO.
“He pitched really well,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said after the Nationals were shut out for the second game in a row and the seventh time in 22 games in June.
“You know what you’re going to get from Max every time he goes out there, man. He’s very competitive, gives you all he’s got every time out, so he kept us in the ballgame, and like I said, we had an opportunity to tie it or win in there at the end, we just couldn’t get that hit.”
“You can’t let it affect you,” Scherzer said of the lack of run-support he’s received in his last five starts, which amounts to eight runs total in those five outings.
“I think that’s the biggest thing, is that I see these guys grinding, I know how much work they put in, and sometimes this is how it goes.
“Sometimes you get run-support, sometimes you don’t. The thing is you just can’t get emotional about it and start letting it affect how you pitch. You have to be even-keeled, go out there and still attack the hitters and work ahead in the count. I’m confident and I pitched here long enough to know — look I’m going to get it. We’re going to hit the baseball.
“Right now we’ve just got to continue to grind out these ABs and try to look forward and just do the little things right, that’s on the mound continue to work ahead in the counts and play defense and offense comes and goes and hitting is contagious so once we get some hits they’ll start going.”
When he did struggle early in the start, Scherzer said it was because he kept falling behind.
“In the beginning I was just falling behind in the counts. I was pitching behind in the count, [that] always puts them in a good situation to hit, but with [catcher Pedro Severino] we were able to navigate the lineup even when I was behind in the count, even with a few walks, but then after that, like you said, kind of settled down, working with Sevy, started landing all the offspeed stuff for strikes, and they were really aggressive, they really grinded some ABs, and they knew what I had and you could tell they really made an adjustment to try to grind out some ABs and they did. It’s just one of those things that happens and continue to move forward.”