Max Scherzer took the mound on Tuesday night with a 12-start unbeaten streak going, over which the 35-year-old righty was (7-0) with a 1.40 ERA, 13 walks, 113 Ks, and a .189/.233/.305 line against in 77 1⁄3 innings.
That stretch began with a six-inning start against the New York Mets on the road in Citi Field which saw Washington’s ace hold the Nationals’ NL East rivals to four hits and two walks in a 6-1 loss in which he received no decision.
Going into his third start of the season against the Mets, Scherzer was coming off a 4 1⁄3-inning, 89-pitch outing against the Baltimore Orioles, in which he gave up just six hits, a walk, and two earned runs.
Scherzer said afterwards that the pitch and inning-limit were part of the plan in his second outing off the Injured List, but if all went well as he recovered between starts, his third turn in the rotation would be an appearance where he might start to turn up the intensity.
“We were focused about making it through kind of five innings, trying to get up for the fifth inning tonight and recover,” he explained of the outing against the O’s, “and see where I’m at, and hopefully if I can recover well, hopefully next time out, then that’s when we can start turning up the intensity on all the pitches.”
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez was asked after Monday’s series opener with the Mets if we were going to see Scherzer unleashed on Tuesday.
“He’s going to go, but we’ll see where he’s at,” the manager explained. “We’re going to — my concern is high-leverage — pitch count during innings, and stuff of that nature, but he had a good week, and he says he feels good, so we’ll see what we’ve got tomorrow.”
Scherzer tossed three scoreless and hitless to start, on 46 pitches, but the Mets were going after first pitches the second time through, and connecting, with Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto hitting back-to-back singles, both on first pitches, a slider and cutter, respectively, before Wilson Ramos lined a first-pitch cutter to left for an RBI double that tied things up at 1-1, and a sac fly to center by Brandon Nimmo put the Mets up by one, 2-1, before Joe Panik lined a first-pitch cutter over the out-of-town scoreboard for a two-run blast that made it 4-1 New York at the end of a 21-pitch frame which left Scherzer at 67 overall after four, trailing by three.
Scherzer retired the final seven batters he faced, but left the game after throwing 90 total pitches in six innings.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 90 P, 61 S, 6/2 GO/FO.
Scherzer was inside watching video as the Nationals fell behind 10-4 after eight and a half, then rallied for seven runs in the bottom of the ninth, walking off with a win on a three-run home run by Kurt Suzuki, 11-10 final.
“I was kinda looking at something else,” Scherzer told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr, “and you could tell something else was going on, and it’s my superstition to not watch that,” though he did join in the celebration once the game was over.
With the excitement of the way it ended, Scherzer’s outing was kind of overlooked, but his manager talked after the game about what he saw from his recovering ace.
“One bad inning,” Martinez said.
“Location was [off] that one inning, they came out and they ambushed him pretty good, but he was good, and the good thing about it, he came out feeling really good. He fought me about staying in the game, and I said, ‘Hey, let’s think about the big picture, you feel great, that’s six innings for you, more than you had in the last two outings, and let’s just build from there. You’re at 90 pitches, I think you did great,’ and then he finally said yeah, that’s good, and he’s got five days and he’s at it again.”
“He was really crisp until that one inning,” Martinez added.
“He was good, and he settled down, came back out, and threw the ball really well, so Max gives us an opportunity to win every five days, and I love it.”
“It was definitely a step forward,” Scherzer told reporters, as quoted on MASN. “I felt like I was able to start bringing some intensity to the pitches, especially getting six innings.
“There was a lot of good in this start. Obviously, in the fourth, ran into kind of a buzz saw. They were able to get on some pitches and get a rally going.
“Obviously, there’s things I can sharpen up. As I continue to ramp up intensity and everything follows suit, an outing like today, as much as you want to beat yourself up for it, was a step forward.”
“When things weren’t looking so good last night,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning, “I thought to myself, ‘This was a victory for us because Max looked good.’ He went six innings, went 90+ pitches. The training wheels will be off Max now, I think he can go his 100-105-110 pitches. I think now you saw the crispness of his fastball. He hung a cutter to Panik and Panik made him pay for it, but his stuff was really good last night, fastball up to 96, we’ll see how he feels today, but very, very encouraged about Max and I think that you’re seeing the progression of a veteran pitcher, a Hall of Fame-type of pitcher getting ready for letting it loose and letting it eat, and I think that we’re just seeing the beginnings of Max getting back to Max.”