Max Scherzer brushed off a comebacker which caught his right ankle in his start in Citi Field last Sunday, recovering in time to get an out at first base, and the 34-year-old right-hander continued in the outing, waving off the trainer and manager in the dugout and remaining on the mound to face another ten batters.
“His leg got stiff there at the end,” Davey Martinez told reporters after the 12-9 win that day.
“I had to go get him, but Max being Max, he competed all day and he pitched unbelievable.”
Scherzer didn’t throw his regularly-scheduled between-starts bullpen on Wednesday, so the Nationals decided to push his fourth start of the season back a day as Martinez explained to reporters before the series opener with the Pittsburgh Pirates this past Friday.
“If they needed me to pitch today, I could. I can,” Scherzer said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the announced change. “But I understand. Hey, we’re early in the season. Be smart. You’re dealing with a leg injury. Leg injuries can turn into shoulder problems in a heartbeat. So I respect what I have here, and I understand where they’re coming from.”
He did, however, make his start on Sunday, in the third of three with the Pirates in D.C.
Scherzer fell behind early in the series finale with the Bucs, giving up three hits (a single by Adam Frazier, an RBI double by Josh Bell, and an RBI single by Colin Moran) and two runs in a 16-pitch top of the first inning in Nationals Park.
A leadoff walk to Frazier in the third, and a two-out single by Josh Bell put the Pirates up, 3-1, though Scherzer got help on an out at home on a single by Moran in the next at bat, when a strong throw in by Michael A. Taylor beat Bell to the plate.
Scherzer gave up just one hit after the third, retiring 11 of 12 batters and completing seven innings on just 85 pitches.
He stayed in to hit, singling with one out and no one on in the bottom of the seventh, and came back out in the eighth and worked around a one-out double (with help from a diving Anthony Rendon at third base on a hard-hit grounder by Starling Marte) for a scoreless, 13-pitch frame that left him at 98 pitches total after eight.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 8.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 Ks, 98 P, 71 S, 11/4 GO/FO.
Wander Suero gave up a run in the Pirates’ ninth, and the Nationals left the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning as they dropped 2 of 3 in D.C.
In his post game press conference, the Nationals’ manager talked to reporters about what the Pirates did early to score the three runs they did against Scherzer.
“They came out swinging the bats,” Martinez said. “They were trying to ambush him early, but he battled through those first few innings and he settled down and he was really good.”
“Bell did a good job with two strikes, fighting off a high fastball, and he was able to pull it,” Scherzer said when asked about the damage done early in the game.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your hat. After [Bell] swung and missed at two of them, he battled and was able to get to it. And Moran, he was able to get a changeup and he just got it through the hole, so you don’t necessarily beat yourself up over the first two at bats. The second two at bats with those two, I threw a cutter in and I didn’t get it in quite enough — [Bell’s] standing off the plate, kind of moves the plate away from him a little bit, so in order for me to execute that pitch it needs to be just another two inches in, if it’s two inches more in, he’s going to hook it foul, instead I left it on the corner and he’s able to keep it fair, and that’s just a little mental thing I’ve got to be aware of, and with Moran he just caught a fastball that ran up a little bit and was able to get good wood to it, so that’s just execution.”
Scherzer talked at length about what was working for him from the fourth through the top of the eighth, when he appeared to settle in after the third and shut the Pirates down.
“I think that’s kind of what it looked like,” he said.
“I think it was more when I kind of sat there and talked with [catcher] Yan [Gomes] and [Pitching Coach Derek Lilliquist], and I thought we just needed to start throwing more curveballs. We needed to slow them down. They had a good approach of going out there and being aggressive early in the counts, and that’s where we all kind of three were on the same page of, ‘Hey, let’s start incorporating the curveball,’ and was able to start throwing some good curveballs to help keep the mix on and allowed me to sequence a little better and steal some strikes.
“Any time you’re pounding the zone early with first-pitch strikes, it allows you to always [beat] counts and be driving the pitches where you want them, and so Yan and I got in a good rhythm, and the other thing today, we had great defense.
“[Michael A. Taylor] made a great throw to keep it a three-run ballgame there, that was a big play, and then Rendon made that huge diving play when the game was right there on the line. I didn’t make that good of a pitch to Marte there and he was able to blast it, and Rendon made a great diving play to keep that game 3-3, so like I said there was a lot of good defense today.”
Were there any lingering effects from the comebacker in his previous outing?
“I was fine,” Scherzer said. “Just something that you’ve got to go out there and pitch, just working through it. Nothing was really bothering it, so just going out there and mentally you’re 100%, you’re just pitching through everything, so it doesn’t matter at that point.”