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Max Scherzer falters late in Nationals’ 8-4 loss to Braves: “At the end I lost my location and paid for it.”

Max Scherzer went back out for the sixth at 104 pitches and gave up two, two-run home runs that put the Braves up for good in an 8-4 win over the Nationals.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Max Scherzer tossed seven scoreless innings on 104 pitches last time out before Sunday’s outing against the Atlanta Braves, holding Tampa Bay Rays’ hitters to six hits and just one walk in a 6-1 win for the Nationals in Washington, D.C.

Scherzer threw 40 of his 104 total pitches in the first two innings, then got through the next five on 60, giving up three hits in the first two and then just three more the rest of the way.

“He just needed to settle down, and he was good,” Manager Davey Martinez said.

“After the second inning, he started pumping strikes and getting ahead of hitters. Utilizing all his pitches. I thought his curveball was really good today, changeup was good. But his fastball was good, and located really well.

“That’s the Max that we know right there. He really pitched well. Needed that today. Needed those seven innings from him, and he did it pretty easy.”

Scherzer threw 104 pitches in five innings on Sunday afternoon, striking out 10 batters and giving up five hits, two walks and two runs, with a 30-pitch fifth pushing him up to and over the century mark.

The Braves fouled off 28 of Scherzer’s 104 pitches to that point, running his count up through five, spoiling pitches and making him work hard throughout.

He collected 15 swinging strikes (four with his fastball, seven with his slider, three with his changeup, and one with his cutter), and 15 called strikes (seven each with his fastball and slider, and one with his changeup) through five.

Then, he came back out for the sixth...

Scherzer returned to the mound, with a 4-2 lead, and then gave up a one-out single by Nick Markakis on his 114th pitch, and a two-run home run by Adam Duvall on his 116th pitch, 4-4, and Austin Riley singled on pitch No. 118, before Ozzie Albies homered on pitch No. 119, 6-4 Braves. That was it for Max in what ended up an 8-4 win for Atlanta.

Max Scherzer’s Line: 5.1 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 10 Ks, 2 HRs, 119 P, 81 S, 1/4 GO/FO.

In the end, Braves’ hitters fouled off 33 of Scherzer’s 119 pitches, and though he had swing and miss stuff (16 swinging strikes + 17 called strikes), as he and his catcher and manager explained after the game, it was the right-hander’s command that hurt him in the top of the sixth.

“They’re a real complete lineup,” Scherzer said of the Braves, who took 3 of 4 in the series in the nation’s capital. “There’s a reason why they score a ton of runs. I feel like I was able to do some good things today, but they did a good job of grinding against me, keep fouling off good pitches and was able to make some good pitches to be able to prevent any big inning until the end.

“At the end I lost my location and paid for it.”

“He just ... location,” Martinez said. “Just location got — he tried to go away on Albies, threw the ball middle-in. Didn’t get the ball up enough to Riley. Wanted to go up, couldn’t get the ball up.

“We had a conversation before the game, during that spurt of the game he said he was good, we were watching him. I know he had a lot of pitches, but he said he felt good.

“With the extra day he had, we were trying to get him through that sixth inning. At that time, we only had three guys in our bullpen. [Wander] Suero, [Will] Harris, and [Kyle] Finnegan.”

Scherzer didn’t entertain the idea that he should have been done after five.

“I had an extra day coming into this start,” he said. “I got two extra days coming up, the bullpen has been taxed, I threw five innings, I’m thinking there I need to get through the sixth inning. So, we got three of the four right-handed hitters coming up, that’s an opportunity for me to go out there and try to get through that inning. There’s no reason why I should come out of the game after the fifth inning.”

“His pitch count was high,” Martinez said. “They fouled off a lot of balls, but the ball was coming out. We were talking to him, and he said he felt really good. Like I said, we get to the sixth inning, and it was all about location that inning. So, he’s our ace. When you have these conversations and you’re watching him and he says he feels good, for me, who else do you want out there in that sixth inning?

“If we could have got through that inning, we felt like we could cover 7-8-9. It didn’t happen today.”

Going into Sunday’s game, Scherzer, who has prided himself on being able to go deep and finish strong in his outings, had a .417/.533/.833 line against in the six games and 15 plate appearances he’d had when he was over 101 pitches. What’s going on late in his outings in 2020?

“I don’t know,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “I mean, a lot of times everything looks there, it’s just one of those weird things.

“I think that would probably be a better question for him, how he’s feeling.

“Obviously I know with the whole weird season and all that kind of stuff, and no fans, he usually feeds off the fans, and things like that. But yeah, it’s been different, is a good word for it.

“Usually that’s kind of where he thrives, like you said, it’s just one of those years where you just don’t know any rhyme or reason, the stuff’s there, you just don’t know any rhyme or reason for it, for sure.”

“Yeah, but that’s the big leagues,” Scherzer said of the stuff being there, but not the results late in his outings.

“It doesn’t matter about what your stuff is. It matters about going out there and getting results. And locating the ball.

“That’s just what you have to do at this level. There’s plenty of guys with even probably better stuff than I have that are out there throwing right now.

“It comes down to pitch execution if you want to have success at this level, and so even though I felt like I was executing the ball early, I paid for it in the sixth when my location became a problem.”