In seven outings following two stints on the Injured List with scapulothoracic bursitis and then a rhomboid strain, Washington Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer put up a 4.74 ERA, eight walks, 54 Ks, and a .243/.278/.473 line against in 38 innings pitched.
Scherzer built up his stamina slowly, and after his final outing of the 2019 regular season, Davey Martinez named the 35-year-old righty the starter for the NL Wild Card Game.
Martinez said that Scherzer was excited to get the official nod.
“I can’t exactly say what he said to me,” Martinez joked, as quoted by MLB.com writer Jamal Collier. “But he was excited. He’s ready.”
The second-year skipper announced on Monday that Kurt Suzuki would be behind the plate for the Wild Card matchup with the Milwaukee Brewers, with Scherzer posting a 2.08 ERA, and a .204/.252/.326 line against while working with the veteran backstop in 99 2⁄3 IP this season.
Scherzer held the Brewers to six hits, a walk, and two runs (one earned) in six innings on the mound when he faced them in Miller Park earlier this season, striking out 10 of 27 batters in what ended up a 5-3 loss in which he received no decision.
When he spoke to reporters in advance of the Wild Card matchup, Scherzer said he didn’t know what he’d be going up against until the Brewers released their lineup, but he knew what kind of team Milwaukee usually fields.
“I don’t know exactly who exactly is going to be in their lineup, because I know they have some righties and lefties that they can get in there, but facing them in the past it’s always been a challenge,” Scherzer said.
“I know when I faced them in Milwaukee this year, they can grind out some ABs,” he added, “... they’re really tough, and they’re swinging the bats hot right now, I think that’s the most important part, so you’re really gonna have to avoid the big inning, especially here in postseason baseball, and really try to contain them as much as we can so our offense can go out there and do their job.”
Asked if it was a tough decision and if the expectation among teammates was that Scherzer would get the nod over someone like Stephen Strasburg, who was dominant down the stretch (2.40 ERA, .171/.269/.324 line against in his final 30 IP), the Nationals’ manager said that he could have gone either way.
“For me it didn’t matter if it was him or Strasburg,” Martinez explained, and as for the team, “... they appreciate them both the same. For me it was about knowing that Max was ready. He’s had a week off. He threw well. His last outing he came up to me — and he wanted to go back out and throw 120 pitches, so that only tells me that he feels strong and everything is back to normal, so we’ve got Max for the Wild Card Game to start. How long he goes will depend on how well he’s pitching and how well we’re doing, so we’ll go from there.”
Scherzer gave up two runs two batters into the game last night, with a leadoff walk to Trent Grisham and a two-run home run to right by Yasmani Grandal on a first-pitch fastball in the first two at bats of the game, 2-0.
Eric Thames hit a 1-0 curve out to right to lead off the second, making it a 3-0 lead, but then Scherzer settled in and got through a 10-pitch second, and a scoreless 10-pitch frame in the third.
Scherzer worked around a misplayed fly in left field by Juan Soto that gifted Eric Thames a double in the top of the fourth, and walked two of the first three batters he faced in the fifth, before leaving them both on base at the end a 26-pitch frame which left him at 77 total after five.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 6 Ks, 2 HRs, 77 P, 46 S, 4/1 GO/FO.
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez decided that was enough, hitting for Scherzer with a runner on and two out in the bottom of the fifth, knowing he had Stephen Strasburg ready to go out in the bullpen.
“It was funny,” the second-year skipper told reporters on Monday afternoon, when he talked about how he might handle the pitching should he need to go to the ‘pen early.
“I brought Stephen into my office and talked to him and asked him if he’d be willing to come out of the bullpen, and his response was, ‘I’ve closed before, in college.’”
“So he said, ‘I’m ready to do whatever you ask me to do. Our motto all year has been going 1-0, and I’m ready to go 1-0 come Tuesday, so whatever you need me for, I’m good for.’”
With the score 3-1 in the sixth, after Trea Turner homered to get the Nationals on the board in the third, Strasburg took over and dominated the Brewers, working around two hits, with a double play erasing a leadoff single in the sixth, and four strikeouts from the 10 batters he faced overall in an efficient, 34-pitch outing, then the home team rallied, loading the bases in the bottom of the eighth before Juan Soto singled to right and an error by Trent Grisham allowed three runs to score, 4-3.
Daniel Hudson came on for a scoreless ninth and the save and the Nationals advanced to the NLDS.
Scherzer’s take on his own outing?
“I felt great, man,” he told MASN’s FP Santangelo in the clubhouse after the win. “The ball was really jumping out of my hand. Just ran a couple of bad pitches, that’s how close it can be, but man, it doesn’t matter, just find a way to keep grinding, kept it from getting out of control, avoid a big inning, and then Stras came in and did his thing. Shut the door three times. And then Huddy shuts the door to win it.”
“Scherzer settled down after the first two innings,” Martinez said after the season-extending win.
“He was dynamite. We rode him as long as we could. We knew we had to pinch-hit for him.”
“What can you say about Stras?” the manager asked rhetorically.
“He comes in out of the bullpen, and shuts them down, gives us a chance to get back in the game. You guys seen the rest. The eighth inning we scored some runs, Huddy comes in and closes the 9th.”
It was Strasburg’s first professional relief appearance, but he said the preparation, and time he was given to get ready made it as much like a start as possible.
“I treat it like a start as best as I could,” Strasburg said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr.
“Just try and prepare mentally. Once I was going to go in there, I was going to go for multiple innings.”
Asked if the game was a microcosm of the Nationals’ season, which saw them fall 12 under .500 in May then fight their way back to earn a postseason berth, only to do the same thing in the Wild Card Game, Scherzer said he’d leave the narrative weaving to reporters, telling Santangelo, “However you want to write it, go ahead, we won.”