Max Scherzer took the mound on Monday night in Nationals Park looking to snap a four-start winless streak over which the three-time Cy Young award winner had put up a 2.33 ERA, with eight walks (2.67 BB/9), 32 Ks (10.67 K/9), and a .175/.245/.340 line against.
He didn’t look particularly sharp early, however, with a leadoff single and a one-out hit-by-pitch in the second starting something for the Red Sox.
A swinging K on a filthy, darting cutter to Sandy Leon got him the second out of the inning, before an intentional walk to Boston’s No. 8 hitter, Jackie Bradley, Jr. brought the opposing pitcher to the plate.
Scherzer’s close friend and former teammate, Rick Porcello, met a challenge fastball and lined the 96 mph 0-2 pitch to left, out of the reach of Juan Soto, for an improbable base-clearing double and a Red Sox’ 3-0 lead.
It was the first extra-base hit of Porcello’s career. Scherzer continued to struggle after he fell behind, with a 35-pitch third pushing him up to 73 pitches overall on what looked like it was going to be a short night for the starter, 24 hours after the Nationals’ bullpen was taxed over the course of 13 innings in the finale with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Scherzer slowed things down with a nine-pitch fourth and 12-pitch fifth, but he was up to 94 after five, and out of the game after he walked Bradley again with a runner on in the sixth to get to Porcello, who K’d looking at a 1-2 fastball this time.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 9 Ks, 108 P, 74 S, 1/4 GO/FO.
Boston went on to win 4-3 in the series opener in Washington, D.C. Scherzer’s 0-2 pitch to Porcello was a big one, as was Brandon Kintzler’s 1-2 sinker to Mookie Betts in the seventh, which Betts line out to left-center field for what ended up being the winning run.
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez talked after the game about another one-run loss, the Nationals’ fifth such loss in a row, and their 16th in 24 one-run games this season.
“I look at it as, look Kintzler was ahead in the count,” Martinez said, “... those are the little things, the little nuances that we really need to clean up. Giving up a home run, 0-2, 1-2, shouldn’t happen. Not the way these guys pitch, and if we can clean that up, those 1-run games go in a different situation.”
And Scherzer’s 0-2 pitch to Porcello? And the walk to Bradley, Jr.?
“Like I said, it’s one of those crazy things,” Martinez said, “and as soon as it happened, I said next time it happens we’re going to walk Bradley again and he’s going to face [Porcello]. I’ll do it 100 times out of 100 times.”
As for what Scherzer was thinking with the fastball to Porcello?
“You’re going to have ask Max, honestly,” Martinez said. “I’m sure he had his reasons.”
“I know he can hit,” Scherzer said.
“We played together, I’ve seen him hit. Threw him a couple sliders to keep him off-balance, and then was trying to get a fastball up and away and it ran back middle-in and anybody can hit middle-in, [he] can do that, I’ve seen him do it. That’s where you’ve got to be better, no matter what. You’ve got to execute pitches against everybody.
“Just because it’s the pitcher doesn’t mean you can ever let up — not saying I did, but the onus of focus is on every single pitch you’ve got to execute.”
Scherzer acknowledged that it was a rough night on the mound overall, but he did what he could to keep it close.
“They’ve got a lineup that really grinds you apart,” he said. “They foul pitches off and they don’t give in and they’ve got a real professional approach all the way up and through their lineup. Took everything out of me tonight to continue to execute pitches, and really there after the third I was pretty tired, but I found a way to still dig down and work with [Pedro Severino] and do what we can to pitch deep into the game to try to give the team a chance. Any time you can — if you get out of there after four you’re kind of killing the pen, so that’s when you’ve got to just settle down with [pitching coach Derek Lilliquist] and Sevy and just kind of reset and find a way to continue to execute pitches and find a way to go deep into the game to try to help out the bullpen.”