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Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer wraps up “first-half” with a win over the Mets

After Max Scherzer wrapped up his “first half” of the 2018 campaign, his teammates talked about what they’ve seen from the Nationals’ ace.

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer snapped a five-start winless streak when he earned the W in Washington’s 18-4 win over the Miami Marlins last week in Nationals Park. He wasn’t particularly pleased with the results, however. He gave up seven hits (three of them home runs) and a total of four runs in seven innings, but he battled through it and ended up throwing 109 pitches overall to spare the bullpen some additional work after the Nats’ relievers had been forced to throw a lot of innings over the last month-plus.

“Just made some mistakes with some offspeed stuff and left it in the zone,” he said of the home run pitches, “and these are too good of guys to make those mistakes, but if there’s ever a time to make some mistakes it’s when you get 18 runs and the offense is blasting everybody, so I’ve still got a smile on my face.”

A mistake by his defense, when the Nationals let a pop to short left field fall in between three players set the New York Mets up for their first run on Thursday night in Citi Field.

Asdrubal Cabrera, who was gifted the double, scored on a line drive RBI single off of Jose Bautista’s bat, on a 2-2 slider from Scherzer in the first, and Bautista got the Nats’ right-hander again in the Mets’ half of the fourth, taking an 0-1 slider to left for a solo home run that cut the Nationals’ lead to 3-2 after two home runs by Anthony Rendon put them up.

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

It was 5-2 Nationals, after after two-run shot to right by Bryce Harper, when Kevin Plawecki hit a 2-2 cutter deep to left field for a solo shot in the seventh, his second of 2018 and the second off Scherzer tonight, 5-3. That was it for the Nationals’ starter, who wrapped up his first half of the 2018 campaign with a curly-W when the Nats held on for a 5-4 win.

Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 2 HRs, 101 P, 73 S, 5/2 GO/FO.

“He was good,” manager Davey Martinez said when asked about Scherzer’s outing.

“He knows, he left a couple balls up and out over the plate, but he was good. He gives us a chance to win every five days, and you’ve got to love Max, he’s very intense and he did the same thing tonight.”

“It was nice to get some run-support,” Scherzer said. “[Rendon] with a two-run shot and a solo shot gets out in front, allows me to pitch a little more aggressively. And then Bryce with the two-run shot, we got up 5-2 at that point and it allows me to just go out there and compete and stay in the zone and try to collect as many outs as possible. When you’ve got guys playing behind you, they made great plays tonight, it allows you to go out there and just do your job and pitch deep into a game, so I was happy I was able to pitch seven innings and it was great throwing to [Matt] Wieters again.

“We’ve been talking, since he’s been hurt, probably more than any time we ever have in the past, so it nice to get back out there with him and have him call a game.”

Summing up Scherzer’s first-half, which saw him go (12-5) in 20 starts with a 2.41 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 34 walks (2.27 BB/9), 182 Ks (12.16 K/9), and a .179/.244/.341 line against in 134 23 IP, Martinez said simply, “Max is Max.”

“He wants to be the best at everything. Pitching, hitting, bunting, you name it, he tells me he can play the outfield if need be, steal a base if need be, I mean, but that’s what you get. He’s very intense about everything he does. I’ve said this before, everybody sees him every five days, I see him every day and he works just as hard the four days in-between starts as he does when he pitches every five days.”

“It’s amazing,” Rendon said when asked about Scherzer.

“He comes out here every five days and grinds and even between his five days he gets his workouts in. He runs, he does everything I guess a pitcher is supposed and his work ethic shows on the field. He’s a grinder. I love it.”

“He’s one of the best in baseball if not the best,” Harper told reporters.

“Past couple years as well, Cy Young out there doing his thing. There’s a guy that I want out there every fifth day it’s either Max Scherzer or Jacob deGrom, I’ll take either one of those two any day of the week.”

Scherzer said his pre-All-Star Break run was “pretty good.”

“I’ve been pretty consistent giving the team a chance to win,” he explained, “... going out there and just pitching deep into ballgames. When you can do that that really allows the rest of the team to get in place and that’s what I pride myself on, just making sure that I’m going out there and being efficient, pitching deep into ballgames, working with the catchers well and playing just good overall baseball, and we’ve won a few ballgames when I’ve been on the mound, and regardless of my record, it’s the team wins that’s what I’m focused on and we’ve been winning ballgames and that’s what’s important.”

Asked about the fact that his strikeouts have been down in the last two outings, with just eight total in 14 innings in back-to-back wins, Scherzer said it’s in part a result of the work other teams do to prepare to face him.

“I think it’s kind of approach on their part,” he said. “They’ve got all the video in the world, they see what I’m doing, and when I’m in those kill counts and I’m executing pitches out of the zone and there’s contact, I win. As long as I get swings out of the zone when I’m executing pitches out of the zone, I can’t make them swing and miss at everything, they’re anticipating certain pitches, and so you just have to focus on what you’re doing right, and when I’m executing pitches the way I want to in those kill counts, you just take it and move.

“As long as I’m getting pop-ups and weak contact, I don’t live and die by strikeouts I can make pitches and get guys out.”