Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper never faced one another in big league action before last night, but they both talked about looking forward to facing one another in the lead-up to Washington and Philadelphia’s first series of the season.
On Sunday morning, Scherzer, who signed a 7-year/$210M deal with the Nationals in 2015, talked to reporters about going head-to-head with his former teammate, noting that it would just be the first of many matchups.
“That’s kind of the way I see it,” Scherzer said. “He’s signed there forever, basically. Or at least forever in my career. We’re going to be facing each other a lot. This is just the first.
“Whatever happens on Tuesday, it’s going to be the course of a career of facing him. This is just round one.”
Harper said he knew what he was in for when he signed on with another NL East club.
“It’s going to be tough,” the 26-year-old said before the first game in D.C. as a member of the opposition.
“Cy Young award-winner, one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. I knew this coming in, signing back in the [NL East], it’s a juggernaut of a division.
“You’re going to face [Jacob] deGrom. You’re going to face [Noah] Syndergaard. You guys had to do that the last few days, so it’s definitely tough. Now you’ve got to face Scherzer and [Stephen Strasburg] and [Patrick] Corbin. It’s great pitching. It’s going to be a good matchup.”
“He’s going to do the same thing that Max always does,” Harper continued. “I mean, he’s a great pitcher, he’s a great performer, like I said, Cy Young, one of the best in baseball, so you always want to go up against the best. So, I’m looking forward to it, but I mean I guess I’m not looking forward to it too, because he is one of the best.”
Harper’s first career at bat against Scherzer came with two on and no one out in the top of the first inning tonight in Nationals Park. He was greeted by a chorus of boos from the D.C. faithful.
Harper fell behind 0-2 quickly against Scherzer, but he spit on a cutter, then a change, low and out of the zone, before he K’d swinging over a 2-2 changeup to the delight of the Nats fans in the crowd.
Yo homes, smell ya later. pic.twitter.com/3Jf1aR8mJq— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) April 3, 2019
At bat No. 2 came in the third, with two out and no one on. The boos returned too. Just as loud, and persistent, interspersed with cheers as Scherzer challenged Harper up high, 95 for a strike, 1-2, then, after Harper fouled off a 97 MPH heater outside, Scherzer missed in with another fastball, and threw a change in the dirt, 3-2, “Let’s go Max! Let’s go Max!”
Scherzer got strike three, swinging, on a cutter in under Harper’s hands, leaving Philly’s outfielder 0 for 2.
Jean Segura (infield single) was on when Harper stepped up for the third time, to more, and louder, boos. Two fouls around a cutter for a ball put the Philly outfielder down again, 1-2 to Scherzer, and he fouled off a 96 MPH center-cut heater, before lining a curve up in the zone and over the plate to right for a one-out double that put runners on second and third.
Scherzer worked his way out of the jam, but was up to 96 pitches and done for the night after just five innings.
Harper finished the night 3 for 5 with the double, a bomb of a two-run home run (off of Jeremy Hellickson), and a single off of lefty Matt Grace.
We were saying Boo-ryce... pic.twitter.com/Gvo08aZykq— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) April 3, 2019
“It’s always going to be a tough at bat going up against Max, you know that,” Harper said after the Phillies’ 8-2 win.
“He threw me a 2-2 changeup, nasty, and then 3-2 cutter that he threw me as well that was absolutely nasty. So I knew going up there that third at bat, ‘I’ve got to get a knock off this guy, because he’s going to text me and wear me out,’ so I mean, just going up there and just trying to stay within myself, stay in the game as much as possible and not really worry about my surroundings.
“I feel like it’s a little different coming back here and getting booed, but for me it’s exactly like going to another ballpark, and facing somebody that’s lights-out electric like Max, or if that’s deGrom and going to New York and getting booed, it’s the same thing for me, so I go out there and just try to play my game, understand that I have teammates in that dugout that are going to pull for me every single day, I have the city of Philadelphia behind me each and every night and if I have that then nothing else matters to me.”
“I thought we had a great night of getting Max to  pitches in five innings, and getting to that bullpen like we wanted to do, and to be able to come out with a W and have the team win tonight that we did,” Harper said.
Asked if he was more comfortable in that third at bat against Scherzer after striking out in the first two, and if he would be charged up to go at the Nationals’ ace again, Harper said facing the right-hander or any of the other aces in the division was just part of the job.
“I don’t know if I’ll get charged up just for the pure fact that we have so many good guys in the [NL] East that are really good,” he explained. “I’ve never faced Max before, so those first two times — I think I’ve squared up with him in Spring Training one time and I didn’t swing the bat, so it was kind of just like a tracking session I guess you could say, so I mean, just trying to understand what he does and how he does it, like I said, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball, if not the best. It’s like facing [Aaron] Nola, it’s like facing deGrom or [Noah] Syndergaard or somebody like that that are very impressive, so each time I get up there, I don’t want to say I’m going to be comfortable against Max Scherzer, but it’s definitely going to be a lot of fun to be able to face somebody like that for a couple years now.”
Scherzer told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, that he enjoyed the vibe in Nationals Park, and attacked Harper and the other Phillies, who are tough outs and pushed his pitch count up.
“I was just kind of feeding off the atmosphere of the crowd,” Scherzer said. “[Harper] is a great hitter, and you have to make great pitches to get him out. You saw that tonight.”
The Phillies’ ability to make contact and drive his pitch up impressed Scherzer as well.
“They had a good approach,” Scherzer said. “Find a way to get the bat on the ball, and good things happen when you do that. And unfortunately that’s bad for me.”
“He was going to come in and try to fight for another inning, and I told him no,” Davey Martinez said after pulling Scherzer after five in the Nationals’ third loss in four games.
“He was done. I said the game started late, it’s cold, you just threw  pitches your last outing, so I said that’s good.”