In his last two starts against Atlanta before Friday night, Washington Nationals’ right-hander Max Scherzer gave up three runs total on 12 hits, walking two and striking out 13 in a 6-2 win and a 3-1 loss. Both of those starts were in the nation’s capital. His last outing against the Braves in SunTrust Park took place on April 4th, when he gave up six hits, two walks, and five runs, two earned, over five innings in which he struck out seven in a 7-1 loss.
Scherzer followed up on that early-season outing with a complete game shutout against the Nationals’ NL East rivals on April 9th in Nationals Park.
In four starts overall against the Braves this season, before tonight’s outing, the defending, back-to-back, NL Cy Young winner was (2-1) with a 1.67 ERA, four walks and 30 Ks in 27 IP, over which he held Atlanta’s hitters to a combined .204/.235/.306 line.
Scherzer worked around a leadoff double in the bottom of the first in the series opener on Friday night, and almost wiggled out of a second and third, no-out jam in the Braves’ half of the second, but he walked the opposing pitcher, Kevin Gausman, to load the bases, and gave up a two-out, two-run single to right by rookie outfielder Ronald Acuna, Jr., who tied things up at 2-2 a half-inning after the Nationals took a 2-0 lead.
The second walk of the game by the Nationals’ ace came around to score in the third, with a two-out double by Ender Inciarte moving Nick Markakis (who walked) around to third before Tyler Flowers drove both runners in with a single through the left side of the infield, 4-2 ATL.
After the Nationals rallied to tie it at 4-4 in the top of the fourth, a one-out triple to left field by Ronald Acuna, Jr., a walk to Ozzie Albies, a sac fly by Freddie Freeman, and RBI single by Nick Markakis put the Braves back on top, 6-4, and the 30-pitch inning pushed Scherzer up to 102 pitches overall and ended his night.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 4.0 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 6 Ks, 102 P, 61 S, 0/2 GO/FO.
“Max wasn’t Max tonight,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said after what ended up a 10-5 loss.
“He threw  pitches in four innings, that’s not who he is. He tried to keep us in the game, we scored four runs, but just he wasn’t himself.”
Both Martinez and Braves’ skipper Brian Snitker acknowledge that it was a particularly hot and humid night in Hotlanta, and Scherzer was sweating profusely, to the point he actually changed his cap mid-inning at one point because it was dripping off the brim as he tried to get ready to pitch.
“It was hot, humid. We had to get a new hat that one inning, because I mean, it was soaked. Completely soaked. So, but his location wasn’t there, he struggled,” Martinez said.
“It was a hot night,” Snitker said. “When I went out to the mound to make a pitching change the air was thick, but our guys did a good job of grinding out at bats and extending at bats and getting his pitch count up.”
“We really were grinding through some at bats and making him work.”
“Tonight I wasn’t able to get in a rhythm,” Scherzer told reporters, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier.
“It’s also kind of at their expense of what they were able to do against me tonight. I never felt like I had great command of any of the pitches. I was pitching out of the stretch, and I never felt like I could really get in sync with my timing, rhythm, mechanics, you name it. They made me work. They fouled off balls. Just an unfortunate way for things to happen.”
Scherzer said the outing, and his struggles were a result of the conditions in SunTrust Park.
Martinez said he wasn’t reading anything into it either. It was just an anomaly in a season that has Scherzer in the running for a third straight NL Cy Young, though this one could, potentially have damaged his case.
“Let it go,” Martinez said. “Max could be out there in five days and do his thing again, I’m sure.”