Going into Wednesday’s afternoon’s outing in St. Louis, Washington’s fill-in manager Chip Hale said that in his sixth start back following two IL stints, 35-year-old Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer, who built his arm back up over the previous five, was good to go as deep as he could this time out.
“I think he’s built up,” Hale explained. “I think we’re not worried about the pitch count. He’ll go as long as he can, and hopefully we’ll get seven out of him. To be frank with you, that’s what our expectation is with him, try to get seven innings.
“If it’s six, so be it, but we’re going to let him go and as long as he’s successful he’s going to keep pitching.”
Scherzer retired the first seven batters he faced, but the eighth, Tommy Edman, hit a 1-2 cutter out to right field for a solo home run that gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.
A leadoff double by Matt Carpenter and two productive groundouts brought in the Cards’ second run of the game in the fifth, 2-0.
Scherzer stranded a leadoff double in the fifth and worked around back-to-back, one-out singles (and a botched pickoff play) in a 15-pitch sixth which left him at 87 pitches overall.
Scherzer hit for himself in the top of the seventh (with a runner on second and one out), and grounded out unproductively, though the Nationals did score a run on Trea Turner’s double to left in the next at bat, then the Nats’ starter came back out and gave up three runs in the bottom of the inning, with Juan Soto losing a two-out fly to left field off Paul DeJong’s bat in the sun, before an RBI single to left field by Edman and a two-run shot by Matt Wieters, on a hanging 2-2 curve, ended Scherzer’s day.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 11 Ks, 2 HRs, 109 P, 77 S, 5/2 GO/FO.
“I was gassed and hung a curveball,” Scherzer told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, in discussing Wieters’ home run after what ended up a 5-1 loss.
Overall, in spite of the end result, Scherzer said he was happy with how he felt and how his stuff played on the mound.
“Really felt I had good mechanics today,” he explained. “Really was under control with my body. ... For me, all the pitches were really playing up today, and I like where my stuff is at.”
Hale was asked about the decision to let Scherzer hit for himself in the top of the seventh, at 87 pitches overall, and go back out for the bottom of the inning. He got the fly for what should have been the third out, only to have Soto lose it before things went awry.
“Is he the best option at that point, even with that pitch count? I think so,” Hale said.
“He’s got strikeout stuff. He needs to get just one more out. Edman got him again with a nice base hit to left field. And then he probably made a bad pitch on Wieters, but Matty got him.
“You think about it, all those things. I’m not going to tell you you don’t. But I think, at that point, he’s our best option.”
“Today, they put some good at-bats against me,” Scherzer added, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier.
“They were able to capitalize when they needed to in some big situations when the game was on the line.”
Scherzer finished the night with 17 swinging strikes (six with his fastball, six with his slider, four with his changeup, and one with his curve) and 21 called strikes overall (nine with his fastball, six with his curve, five with the slider, and one with the changeup), his fastball sat at an average of 94.9 MPH and got up to 97.6, but in the end it wasn’t enough. Mistakes made behind him, and some he made himself, combined to cost the Nationals their second game in St. Louis, as the Cardinals took two of three in the series with Wednesday’s win.
“That’s what happens when you play playoff-quality teams,” Scherzer told reporters.
“It comes down to the little stuff, so it doesn’t matter how good the big stuff is. Everyone can execute the big stuff at this point. It comes down to the fine details. That’s what kind of did me in today.”