Max Scherzer was winless in five starts between June 10th and July 2nd, but the Washington Nationals’ ace took the mound in the second game of two with Atlanta’s Braves on Tuesday with a five start unbeaten streak going, over which the 34-year-old right-hander had put up a 2.91 ERA, eight walks, 36 Ks, and a .216/.269/.416 line against in 34 innings.
Scherzer tossed three scoreless on 38 pitches to start the game against the Nationals’ NL East rivals, then he stepped to the plate with one out in the bottom of the third inning and hit an 0-2 curveball from Sean Newcomb to right for a single that left him 15 for 49 on the season, with a six-game hit streak going.
Freddie Freeman walked to start the Braves’ fourth, and took third base on a Nick Markakis single, but three quick outs followed in what ended up being a scoreless, 33-pitch fourth that pushed Scherzer up to 71 pitches on the night.
After putting runners on the corners, Scherzer struck Kurt Suzuki out, popped Ender Inciarte up, and got a groundout from Johan Camargo to end the threat without a run scoring.
How did he handle that jam?
“Just patience,” Scherzer said after the game. “‘Don’t try to do too much in this situation.’
“Was able to get into a kill count with Suzuki and was able to collect a strikeout, and then Enciarte, I fell behind in the count, was able to find a way back to 3-2, and was just able to challenge him with a fastball, a fastball up to get a pop-up, and that was a big out, because now you’re one pitch away from getting out of the inning, and even though I fell behind 3-0 [to Camargo], found a way to execute three pitches, and with the curveball, 3-2 curveball, kept them from scoring, kept us in the ballgame, kept momentum on our side and try to throw up as many zeroes as I can.”
Scherzer needed just 10 pitches to get through a 1-2-3 fifth inning, with a 1-0 lead intact, but a 1-0 slider to Charlie Culberson in the first at bat of the Braves’ sixth ended up in the left field seats for a leadoff blast that tied it up.
He was up to 98 pitches after six, and Scherzer came back out for the seventh and retired the Braves in order, striking Dansby Swanson out with a 97 mph fastball on his 113th pitch.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 Ks, 1 HR, 113 P, 83 S, 6/3 GO/FO.
After his fourth start of the season against the Braves, Scherzer said the same thing he did after start No. 3 against Atlanta last month, they know him well and they grind out at bats.
“Any time I’m facing this lineup, they know me so well, they grind, they foul so many pitches off,” he explained, “they really understand what I’m trying to do, but tonight I thought [Matt] Wieters did an excellent job behind the plate of even trying to anticipate what they’re going to do and just staying one step ahead. He really called a good game and we were just able to execute some pitches, and keep them from ever having a big inning.
“Just kind of kept us in the ballgame the whole time, pitched deep into the game. That’s the formula to win. And two great teams tonight. This was a big league juego, and everybody was out there grinding and it just happens that they won. Proud of everybody’s effort, in a doubleheader on a hot day, this was good baseball.”
Scherzer was asked if it was hard to not think of the loss as a disappointment when the Nats had a shot to take two in one day from the team directly in front of them in the NL East.
“No, I don’t think it’s disappointing,” he said,” just because of the effort everybody laid on the line. Everybody grinded, everybody played hard, great ABs, it just didn’t work out for us tonight, sometimes that happens. That’s just sometimes baseball, but hey, like I said, no one is hanging their head, we played hard today.”