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Max Scherzer throws seven scoreless vs Rays: “That’s the Max that we know right there.”

Washington Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer pitched like the Max Scherzer everyone (but his opponents) knows and loves.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer was unbeaten in six starts going back to the season opener, with a 3.38 ERA, nine walks, 44 Ks, and a .254/.306/.393 line against in 32 innings pitched over that stretch before the 36-year-old, three-time Cy Young award-winner took a loss last Wednesday night on the road in Citizens Bank Park.

Scherzer gave up seven hits, three walks, and three earned runs in six innings of work in that outing, and talked afterwards about his frustration with the walks he was issuing at a much higher rate than usual this season, and what he needed to work on between starts.

“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 explained.

“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 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.”

After facing divisional or regional rivals in five of his last six outings, Scherzer was facing a Tampa Bay Rays club tonight that hadn’t faced since 2018.

Only four Rays’ position players faced Scherzer, for a combined 18 at bats, before last night.

“It kind of works both ways,” manager Davey Martinez said when asked who would benefit from the lack of familiarity before the game. “They haven’t seen Max much and Max hasn’t seen them much.

“I know Max has done his due diligence. We got a lot of information for him. He’s studied videos.

“He’s got a game plan with [Kurt] Suzuki tonight. It will be interesting to see, but you know how Max is. He’s always up for a new challenge, this is a challenge for him. He’s going to go out there and do what he does best.”

Scherzer was close to if not at his best in the series opener with the Rays, holding their hitters to six hits over seven scoreless in which he walked just one with eight Ks on 104 pitches.

Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 Ks, 104 P, 70 S, 3/5 GO/FO.

“That’s the Max that we know right there,” Scherzer’s manager said after a 6-1 win in the nation’s capital.

Scherzer threw 40 of his 104 total pitches in the first two innings, with four Rays reaching base, but he stranded them all and settled in after that.

“He just needed to settle down, and he was good,” 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.”

“During this past turn, reflect upon how I’ve been pitching, I just didn’t think my curveball and changeup has been executed as well as I could have,” Scherzer said after his outing.

“I feel like my changeup has been kind of flat, hasn’t been getting the swings and misses that is usually does. And so in the bullpen really worked on trying mechanically to deliver that one right. And I felt like tonight I was finally able to start throwing some depth changeups and that really helped me out, and then the curveball, was able to get some more plate with it and be able to get underneath the zone and get some swing and misses.”

Scherzer got 14 swinging strikes overall, four with his changeup and three with his curve.

“When I’m able to execute those two pitches, especially when they’ve got seven lefties in their lineup, it allows me then for the fastball and cutter to be able to play up even more.

“That’s when [catcher Kurt Suzuki] and I were able to get in rhythm and stay in rhythm and just keep sequencing.

“I have so much trust in what he can do behind the plate and calling pitches for me, so that’s when it gets fun and we can sequence and execute.”

“Honestly I feel like he’s been throwing the ball, his stuff has been really good this year,” Suzuki said.

“Some broken bat hits here and there and things like that get some runs scored.

“Last game against Philly, some broken-bat hits score a couple runs, and a good piece of hitting scored another homer, but honestly his stuff’s there, and tonight, just executed the pitches and kept guys off balance and did a great job for us.”

Suzuki echoed his manager’s thoughts on going up against an opposition you don’t know all that well, when he talked about how he and Scherzer attacked the Rays.

“Every team, every player, they bring challenges to what you’re trying to do within the game, with the game plan, and at this level, when every player is a quality player, every team brings their own set of challenges.

“So I think when you haven’t faced a team, they haven’t faced Max, you haven’t faced them, it’s kind of like a game where nobody knows each other, they’re kind of feeling you out.

“Game planning for that, you really don’t overthink too much. You have Max’s strengths and their strengths and you try to mix and match and find holes and try to find ways to keep them off-balance and things like that, but I think that’s the fun part of the game. Every time you face a different team there’s always going to be a couple players or some players that you haven’t faced before and I think that always bring a fun set of challenges and that’s what makes this game so beautiful.”

“It’s a challenge when you face guys for the first time because you don’t know exactly what’s going to go on,” Scherzer said.

“But I talked to a couple of our guys on our team who had faced them, just trying to get a feel for — I prepared for them in my reports, andI just wanted to get a feel for what it was going to look like and see if anything was different than what I kind of thought coming into it. They kind of highlighted some of the things I thought, so it made it more comfortable to understand kind of the things that we wanted to execute.

“The guys were saying go ahead and go after those, those are the pitches you want to throw. So, when you face guys for the first time, a lot of times in that first AB you’re trying to get a feel for what they can and can’t do, and that’s when in the mid-inning you kind of reconvene and think, ‘Hey, what’s going on, what do we like and what we don’t like?’ You just try to execute your pitches, and sometimes they haven’t seen your pitches, so that can play up for you.

“It’s a cat and mouse game, it always is whether you face somebody for the first time of for the 20th time. It always come back to execution.”