Philadelphia Phillies’ hitters didn’t put much in play early in Thursday afternoon’s series finale in Nationals Park. Max Scherzer tossed three scoreless and hitless on 52 pitches, giving up a couple walks, but nothing else the first time through the lineup.
Scherzer was up to six Ks from 14 batters faced after he picked up another strikeout in a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth. He finally gave up a hit in the fifth, (after surrendering a leadoff walk, his third of the game) with Jorge Alfaro reaching on a ground ball to short that shortstop Trea Turner couldn’t handle, but the Nationals’ ace eventually stranded both of the runners that reached base to complete another scoreless frame.
An 11-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth, in which he picked up two more Ks, gave Scherzer eight strikeouts total from 22 batters, and left him at 90 pitches overall after six scoreless in a 0-0 game as Phillies’ righty Aaron Nola (who threw just 67 pitches through six efficient innings) kept up with the back-to-back, defending NL Cy Young winner.
Scherzer cracked first.
He walked Maikel Franco with one out in the top of the seventh inning and left a 1-0 cutter up, out over the plate for Odubel Herrera, who hit a two-run home run into second deck in right field, driving in the only runs scored by either team in the game.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 10 Ks, 1 HR, 109 P, 65 S, 4/3 GO/FO.
For the fourth time in Scherzer’s last five losses, the Nationals’ offense came up empty in what ended up a 2-0 game in the nation’s capital.
“He was good,” Davey Martinez told reporters after taking two of three from the Phillies but dropping the series finale.
“Uncharacteristic he walked four guys, but he battled. He was good. He gave us some good innings there and we battled back, had some chances early to pick up a point, couldn’t do it and then we had a chance again to pick up some big runs and couldn’t do it.”
Scherzer expressed frustration after the loss, which snapped an eight-start unbeaten streak, over which he was (6-0), with a 2.00 ERA, 11 walks, 60 Ks, and a .200/.246/.349 line against in 54 innings pitched, though he wasn’t frustrated with the lack of support he received.
His lack of execution on the pitch to Herrera and his walks bothered Scherzer.
“Wanted to get that pitch up and in,” he said of the cutter to Herrera.
“That’s where I have success with that [pitch] and it just backed up on me and was out over the plate and he put a great swing on it.
“That was the one pitch that beat me, but I was kind of inconsistent all day, searching for an arm slot, and just wasn’t able to quite put away some of the hitters after I got to a 1-2 count.”
“I think three of the walks were after a 1-2 count,” Scherzer said (and they were), “... so I’ve just got find the efficiency to be able to find an out pitch in that situation so that we’re getting the hitters out 1-2, 2-2 [instead] of letting the at bat drag on and eventually turn into a walk.”
Talking about searching for an arm slot, and how much tinkering he can actually do mid-start, Scherzer said there were some things you could do.
“It’s the little things you can think about,” he explained, noting that he was pitching on extra rest.
“With the extra day my arm felt really good today. It felt live, and the ball was really coming out of my hand well and was throwing the ball well, it just kind of led to some inconsistency with some executions.
“It was more of a problem early in the game than it was later in the game, and just finding the zone and finding strike one. I didn’t throw strike one early in the game but I thought I threw it better later in the game, but like I said you fall behind enough guys, you fall behind in enough counts eventually you get beat by making a mistake and that’s what happened today.”
“He mentioned that after the first inning when he came in,” catcher Spencer Kieboom said of Scherzer searching for his arm slot after he caught the right-hander for just the second time this season.
“I actually thought he did a great job today. He did a great job mixing up pitches a little bit.
“Not working ahead as much in the first inning, maybe a little bit in the second, but after that I thought he settled down and did a really nice job.”
And the cutter to Herrera that ended up going out? The pitcher and catcher had a meeting on the mound before the pitch, after Scherzer missed with a first-pitch curve to the Phillies’ outfielder.
“I know [Herrera is] an all-or-nothing dude, and you love to see that and he’s the ultimate competitor and we threw the curveball and it was outside so I went out there and tried to get his feet underneath him and his breath underneath him and make sure we were on the same page and we just didn’t execute that pitch,” Kieboom said.
It seemed, however, that the walks he issued were more of a source of frustration than the home run.
“The two walks to Franco were in 1-2 counts,” Scherzer reiterated, “and that’s when I’m at my best, when I’m in that position to get out pitches, and I just wasn’t able to collect those outs when I needed them.”