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Max Scherzer still building, not sharp in Nationals’ 5-0 loss to the Braves

“I feel like the action on every pitch is pretty much where I want it, just now it’s coming down to location.” - Max Scherzer

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer held the Atlanta Braves to a run on two hits when he went up against the NL East’s first-place team last week in SunTrust Park, with the only run he gave up scoring on Matt Joyce’s solo home run in the second of Scherzer’s six innings on the mound in a 9-4 win for the Washington Nationals.

That appearance left the 35-year-old right-hander with a 3.54 ERA, five walks, 27 Ks, and a .221/.265/.442 line against in 20 13 innings pitched since he returned from his second stint on the Injured List in 2019 after dealing with scapulothoracic bursitis and a mild rhomboid strain.

The outing against the Nationals’ divisional rivals, he said, was the first time he was able to go all-out with all of his pitches.

“Yeah, full-throttle,” Scherzer said after the win.

“From beginning all the way to the end. I felt good even coming out. I was even ready to pitch the seventh inning, really thought I had 110 pitches today.”

A long top of the seventh ended his outing, however.

“I think he’s back to where he feels like he can throw any pitch at any time, and sort of step on that gas pedal when he needs to,” bench coach Chip Hale said, when he spoke with the reporters in Atlanta after taking over the managerial duties when Davey Martinez went and got himself ejected.

Martinez told reporters before tonight’s game that he thought Scherzer would be fine in a second straight start against the Braves, after he took things to the next level last time out.

“He could be next-next level,” Martinez said, “... but I mean he’s Max.

“He prepared, he’s ready, he’s going to go out there — he’s fired up as always, he’s going to go out there and compete. That’s what you expect of Max, and he’s really good at it.”

Scherzer tossed three scoreless to start his second consecutive outing against the Braves, but gave up two runs in the fourth, on a one-out, RBI single by Matt Joyce and two-out, RBI double by Dansby Swanson which made it 2-0 at the end of a 23-pitch frame that left the Nationals’ starter at 78 pitches after four.

Scherzer gave up back-to-back singles to start the Braves’ fifth, and a one-out sac fly out to center off Nick Markakis’s bat made it a 3-0 game, with the Nationals’ starter up to 99 total after a 21-pitch inning that ended his outing a lot earlier than the righty probably hoped...

Max Scherzer’s Line: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 Ks, 99 P, 63 D, 2/4 GO/FO.

Scherzer picked up 12 swinging (five with his slider) and 12 called strikes (five with his four-seamer) out of the 99 pitches he threw, but the Braves spoiled/fouled off 17 fastballs, and 25 total pitches to help run his pitch count up and get him out after just five.

His fastball sat at 94.3 MPH (a tick under his season average of 95.3), and got up to 96.5.

How did he feel about the outing, in what ended up a 5-0 loss?

“This is a good lineup and they just did a good job of grinding out ABs, just fouling pitches off,” Scherzer told reporters after the game, “... and I was working behind in the count at times, just not able to locate quite as well, and that’s something that’s just got to change and I can improve upon, is just being able to locate the fastball a little bit better and force their hand a little bit better in the locations I wanted to.”

“He was so-so,” his manager said. “Threw a lot of pitches, obviously, wasn’t as crisp. But he battled, you know. You saw Max battle through it, and just threw a lot of pitches.”

“I don’t think he commanded his off-speed stuff,” Martinez added. “Threw his fastball okay, but his changeup was a little off, threw a couple of decent sliders, but he was just a tick off today for me.

“But like I said, he battled through it, I mean, he really did, he gave us everything he had.”

Last time out against the Braves, he got 17 swinging strikes (nine with his slider, six with his fastball), and 18 called strikes (12 with his fastball), with the Braves fouling off 12 four-seam fastballs, and 18 pitches total. What was different this time out?

“Just a culmination of everything,” Scherzer said, “just being able to execute the pitches the way you want to. I feel like the action on every pitch is pretty much where I want it, just now it’s coming down to location. So, there’s little things I can sharpen up mechanically to make sure that that happens.”

His manager agreed that there’s enough time down the stretch to fine tune things so the Nats’ ace is ready if they hang on and make it to October.

“Absolutely,” he said. “The fact that he said he felt good and when we took him out he said felt good, so let’s just — I said, ‘Hey, let’s see how you feel tomorrow and get through it and here we go again in your next start.”

The whole experience of getting back up to speed after all the time on the IL, Scherzer said, has been different.

“It’s new,” he acknowledged, “... but there’s no excuses in this league. You’ve got to post and you’ve got to go out there with everything you’ve got and you’ve got execute. Everything is on the line every single time you take the mound, so this is major league baseball.”