In his one regular season outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers this year, back in May in LA, Max Scherzer, the Washington Nationals’ 35-year-old ace, gave up five hits, two walks, and two runs in seven innings on the mound, striking out seven of the 29 hitters he faced in a 5-2 win.
What, if anything, did the Dodgers take away from that outing, and what they watched of Scherzer’s others starts heading into last night’s game?
“The thing that obviously that is most concerning is his stuff,” Dave Roberts said on Sunday night, when the Dodgers’ skipper was asked about his concerns going into Game 4 against the three-time Cy Young award-winner.
“It’s a three pitch -- it’s three plus pitches. He can beat you in the strike zone with three pitches, he can beat you out of the zone. He’s relentless. It’s just really hard to game plan with a guy that can use, has different weapons to get ahead or put you away. So that’s probably, that’s why he’s one of the best in the game and has been for the last — call it five years. So that’s probably the thing that scares me and he’s a hard guy to prepare for.”
In his second start of the season against the Dodgers last night, Scherzer fell behind early, giving up a solo home run by Justin Turner on an 0-1 fastball up in the zone inside that the Dodgers’ infielder hit out to left with two out in the first to make it a 1-0 game.
Scherzer held the Dodgers there through three, and took the mound in a 1-1 tie in the fourth and worked around a leadoff single to keep it tied.
A 17-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth, in which he struck out the side, left him at 70 pitches total with six Ks from 17 batters faced on the night.
Anthony Rendon drove in a run with a single and Ryan Zimmerman hit a three-run blast in the bottom of the fifth, and Scherzer came back out for the sixth with a 5-1 advantage, and retired the Dodgers in order in a 12-pitch frame that left him at 82 pitches.
It was 6-1 in the sixth when Scherzer gave up a one-out single and back-to-back walks that loaded the bases before he got a swinging K from Chris Taylor and a groundout to second from Joc Pederson to finish a 27-pitch frame that ended his outing, in what ended up a 6-1 win which forced a Game 5.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 109 P, 72 S, 4/6 GO/FO.
Scherzer finished the night with 15 swinging strikes (spread out among his five pitches) and 15 called strikes, eight with his fastball, which sat around 95, and got up to 98, not quite the 98-99 MPH he averaged in his relief appearance in Game 2, but pretty good.
So did he throttle it down a little to get through seven innings as opposed to a one-inning relief appearance?
“I don’t think we really held anything back, you know,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said after the win.
“At this point in the season you’re just kind of letting it go and just here we go, just throw it. I don’t think there was any holding back, we were coming hard tonight.”
“You know, you just can’t say enough about him,” Roberts told reporters when asked about Scherzer’s outing after the Dodgers’ loss.
“You can’t say enough about his compete. He just sort of wills his way to getting outs. And, obviously, in that first inning we put up a run and with the homer and from that point on he just, yeah, he minimizes damage, he punches a lot of guys, and yeah, I just can’t see anybody better, really. And so I guess the one solace is we don’t need to see him in Game 5.”
Scherzer confirmed that he won’t be coming out of the pen in Game 5.
“No, I mean, my arm is hanging right now. That was that. That pushed me all the way to the edge and then some. So, yeah, I can’t imagine any scenario where I’m pitching.”
Scherzer’s final inning work was a rough one. He threw 27 of his 109 pitches in the seventh, and the Dodgers came inches away from letting LA back in the game when Joc Pederson hit one out to right that landed just outside the foul line before he grounded out to second to end the frame.
Scherzer said afterwards that he left it all out there.
“I was just gassed,” he acknowledged. “I was out. I was empty in the tank, giving everything I got. I could feel my arm slot was lowering because I was fatiguing and it just becomes a mental grind of you got to, in that moment, just collect yourself and just if your arm slot is dropping just focus on what you can do and try to execute pitches.
“I caught a break with Pederson, that ball’s an inch foul, it could have been an inch fair. But thankfully it was foul and I was able to execute a changeup and was able to get out of a big situation.”
Scherzer said he did have to throttle it down to some extent to get as deep in the start as possible, though Scherzer a notch down is clearly still pretty dominant.
“I knew I needed to make a full-on start. There’s been times, like I know there’s times in the regular season where you’re not fresh, where you come into a game and you got to conserve where you’re at, try to almost pitch more and today was kind of one those days, given that I pitched in Game 2. But I knew I could still pitch, I knew I had all the pitches working and was just trusting Zuk. Just back there, whatever he was putting down I was willing to just execute and just stay within our game plan.”
“When he came out and I saw him throwing 95,” Davey Martinez said, “I really felt we were going to be in good shape. He was in a good place, he wasn’t trying to over amp, and he understood. Like I said, I told him, ‘Hey, you’re going to have to throw, I’m going to have you throw 120 pitches today,’ but he did everything we asked him to do and more.”