Max Scherzer struck out 11 of the 23 batters he faced when he went up against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park this past weekend, giving up a run on six hits in six innings on the mound in what ended up a 10-2 win.
Scherzer lowered his ERA to 3.86 in that outing, and finished the night with a .257/.319/.403 line against in seven starts and 37 1⁄3 IP this season.
Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez went to the bullpen after just 92 pitches from Scherzer, who, he said, had more left in the tank.
“He’s been up over 100 pitches quite a few times already,” Martinez explained.
“We wanted to keep him down under 100 today for sure. He looked good that last inning.
“He still had a little left, but I told him I said, ‘Hey look, that’s all we need. That’s great.
“‘Our bullpen is fresh, we had the day off, we’ll be fine.’ And he accepted it and he was good with it.
“He’s coming back in five days, so hopefully he gets enough rest, he goes through his bullpen this week and he’s back at it in five days.”
Martinez said before last night’s game, that he was happy to have Scherzer fresh, because he needed the Nationals’ ace to help the club bring an end to a four-game losing streak.
“He’s our No. 1. He’s been doing well. He’s been pitching well,” the manager said.
“Hopefully today he comes out and he gives us the innings we need and we score some runs for him. The biggest thing is we’re facing a tough opponent, but we’ve got to score some runs.
“We’ve got to put some runs up for him. If we can do that, he passes the ball to the back end of our bullpen and we come out with a victory.
“So, I’m expecting him to come out and do his thing and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Scherzer met his manager’s expectations through three, matching the Philadelphia Phillies’ starter Zack Wheeler with three scoreless each.
The Nationals’ ace ran into trouble in the bottom of the fourth inning, however, giving up two walks (to J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura) and a single (by Alec Bohm) to load the bases with one out before Neil Walker hit a first-pitch changeup to center field for a broken bat hit and a 2-0 Phillies’ lead.
Jay Bruce hit a 1-1 curve that stayed up out to left to lead off the sixth with a home run that made it 3-0 in the Phillies’ favor. Scherzer finished off the inning, but slammed his glove in frustration when he turned to the dugout after a 108-pitch outing.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 6 Ks, 1 HR, 108 P, 68 S.
“He was upset about the Jay Bruce homer,” his manager said after the second straight shutout loss and fifth straight loss overall.
“He started yelling and throwing his glove, you can talk to him about that. But he got upset about that because he had two strikes on him.
“His stuff is really good. He could have thrown his fastball a lot of times by guys and he did, I mean the broken bats were an example.
“The walks too, you know, that’s something that we don’t know what’s going on, but I think he gets those guys in two-strike counts or 3-1 counts, and just I think he needs to be more aggressive in the zone because the stuff is electric.”
“Frustrated,” Scherzer said by way of explaining his outburst. “Tensions are high. You want to go out there and win. You want to be — as a starting pitcher you want to pitch out deep and get deep into the game and be winning the game.
Max telling Suzuki he wants to go outside (eyes/Harper was walking away from the plate).— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 3, 2020
Then K'ing Harper with an 88mph back door cutter. ✂️ pic.twitter.com/fSmgQXaJl7
“We’re on a losing streak and you want to be the stopper and I wasn’t. And that’s frustrating.
“For me, the way I looked at it, is I allowed a tack-on run, which makes it even harder for our offense to score, and just kind of the way the sixth inning was unfolding it was frustrating for me, so yeah, it’s emotional, I slammed my glove, oh well.”
Scherzer, as frustrated as he was with the tack-on run, was really unhappy about the leadoff and one-out walks in the fourth that set the Phillies up for the first two runs.
“You walk two ... guys and you’re asking for trouble,” he said.
“Just wasn’t able to get ahead there on either Realmuto or Segura, so that set up a bad inning, and Bohm was able to get extended on a slider and really set them up.
“You hear pitchers all the time complaining about, ‘Oh, I gave up a broken-bat base hit for a couple runs, they got so lucky, like whatever.’
“But you’ve got to be accountable to yourself, you got to be accountable to what you have control over, yeah, he had a broken-bat base hit, but I’ve walked two guys. You almost kind of deserve it in that situation. But, for me, found a way to at least get through six innings. I don’t think I was quite as bad as my line was, but I’ve got to cut out these walks.”
Scherzer, with three walks overall tonight, has now issued 16 walks in 43 1⁄3 IP (3.32 BB/9), up significantly from his career average (2.44 BB/9) and the numbers he’s put in previous seasons (2.08 in 2018, 1.72 in 2019). So, what’s going on there?
“That’s why his pitch count has been so high,” Martinez said. He had 108-109 pitches today, something like that, and I think he gets to the point where he tries to get a little too fine.”
“I think we can talk about two things on that,” Scherzer offered. “There’s a fine line between all of these. You can nibble, you can locate and then you can be aggressively attacking in the zone, which can then — that strategy also leads to a lot more hits if you’re constantly in the zone. I’m really trying to focus on location and really trying to locate, but sometimes I get caught nibbling a little too much when I should be aggressive.
“And so, when you get into certain counts, and certain pitch locations and types, there’s just too many times right now where I end up nibbling, and I’m just missing by a little bit instead of being more aggressive. So for me, that’s kind of my take on why my walks are a little bit up.
“I think I need to be a little more aggressive towards the zone so that I don’t nibble as much and that will just naturally bring the walks down.”
Scherzer also pointed to issues with his changeup, against which opposing hitters have a .313 AVG on the season (up from .240 in 2019).
“The other thing I think for me how I reflect upon myself, my changeup isn’t as effective right now, it just doesn’t have the same action on it. That will send me back to the drawing board of alright, how do I get back to throwing my depth changeup, that swing and miss changeup? I just don’t have that right now, and it’s just not as effective.
“For me that’s kind of how I look at my stuff and what I need to do going into my next start.”