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Max Scherzer, Nationals beat Braves, 6-2, in team effort in Washington, D.C.

Max Scherzer wasn’t at his best, but he was good enough to help the Nationals beat the Braves, 6-2, on Sunday afternoon.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer gave up six hits and five runs, two earned, over five innings in his first start of the season against Atlanta, back on April 4th in SunTrust Park.

Scherzer then tossed a complete game shutout against the Braves when he faced them again in his next start, in what ended up a 2-0 win in Nationals Park on April 9th.

“He was just throwing strikes,” Davey Martinez told reporters after Scherzer struck out 10 and held the Braves to just two hits in that outing.

“Really. He was attacking the strike zone all game long, and when he does that he’s very effective.”

Coming off a max-effort (pun sort-of intended) two-inning outing in the All-Star Game last Tuesday night, Scherzer labored in six innings on the mound on Sunday afternoon in the nation’s capital, but with help from his defense, the Nationals’ ace managed to hold the Braves to two runs total on eight hits in a 107-pitch outing, and he left the mound with a 3-2 lead in what ended up a 6-2 win.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

“This took a total team effort today,” Scherzer said after he improved to (W, 13-5).

“The Braves, a division team, they know everything I’ve got,” he added. “They absolutely grind apart every at bat, it’s really hard to put them away, and it showed today. But our defense played outstanding today. [Bryce Harper] throwing that ball in to be able to get [Ronald Acuna, Jr.] at second, [Adam] Eaton with a great catch on Freddie [Freeman], I saw [Anthony] Rendon make great plays today.”

So if they know him so well, what adjustments does he make to mix things up, and keep them off-balance and guessing?

“You’re just talking about the instincts of the game,” Scherzer told the reporter who asked.

“That’s where — [Matt] Wieters and I sit down before the game, we have a plan, but things change and you’ve got to have instincts and know what’s going to work and what’s not and how you put pitches together and watching how [Stephen Strasburg] pitches and figuring out what’s successful and what’s not and just make sure that every single time you get a sign that you’re 100% convicted on that pitch, that you can execute it, and that’s what it comes down to is just pitch execution.”

Scherzer threw 26 pitches in the first, he was up to 59 after three, 86 after four, and 97 after five, but he came back out for the sixth and worked around a leadoff single in a 10-pitch top of the inning that ended his outing.

“He gets ahead of hitters and he started getting a little more contact early [in the count],” Davey Martinez said when asked about his starter settling in. “He came out after he had I think about 87, or ninety-something pitches, and he looked at me and said he felt strong, he can go back out, so we sent him back out there the last inning and he threw well.”

“You’ve just got to kind of find a way to make sure that you don’t get emotional about it and start feeling frustrated about it,” Scherzer said of his early struggles.

“You’ve got to be aggressive,” he added, “... go back out and continue to work ahead in the count, that’s got to be your sole focus, is making sure that you go back out there, throw strikes, and you can’t really care about what’s going on, about the previous four innings, you’ve got to mentally dig deep and find a way to get through the fifth.”

As he said, he had plenty of help from his defense, and he received run support early and the Nationals scored late as well to help secure a split of the two games the Nationals and Braves managed to play this weekend.

“You can go around the clubhouse and point to everybody and say they had a hand in why we won today,” Scherzer said, “and those are the best type of wins, when everybody goes out, we play as a team, and we win like that.”