Kyle Schwarber’s first home run as a Washington National was unforgettable.
Schwarber crushed a 2-1 sinker from Arizona left-hander Alex Young for a 463-foot home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to break up a scoreless duel and lift the Nats over the Diamondbacks, 1-0.
The Nationals pulled out their fourth victory of the young season on another night of offensive futility that almost ruined a milestone performance by Max Scherzer.
“One, it came in a big moment,” manager Davey Martinez said of Schwarber’s blast in his post game Zoom call. “And it’s No. 1 for him in a Nats uniforms so that was awesome, but I’ve seen him do that.”
After going 0-for-3 until then, Schwarber was happy to get something to hit.
“I wasn’t trying in that spot to hit a homer,” Schwarber said. ”I was just trying to put [together] a quality at bat, get the barrel on the ball, and that was the result.”
It was a better result than he had achieved in three earlier at-bats, and more scoring than the Nationals could muster on four hits to that point, all off D-backs’ starter Taylor Widener in the first six innings.
It also came in a lefty/lefty matchup, where the pitcher usually has the edge.
“I want him to hit lefties, we didn’t sign him here to platoon.” said Martinez.
“So he’s going to get an opportunity to hit lefties, and you see what happens when he stays on the ball, he hits it really far.”
Kevin Ginkel blanked the Nats in the seventh, and Young spun a perfect eighth before Schwarber’s heroics with one out in the ninth.
Faced with the possibility of extra innings and a runner starting each half inning at second base, Schwarber knew the Nats signed him to come through in that situation.
“I know that I’m a really good hitter, and I know that I can do it every day, I mean, shoot, I’ve done it my whole life,” he said of facing lefties as a left-handed hitter.
Schwarber’s game-winning swing reminded Martinez of the 2018 All-Star Home Run Derby at Nationals Park, when Schwarber belted 55 home runs in a battle with Bryce Harper.
Schwarber’s longest shot that night was 462 feet, one foot short of Friday’s game-winner.
“Those two guys put on a show and they were hitting balls just like that. It was impressive.”
But before the on-camera ice bath, before the hoopla of the first homer, before the Nats even got to the ninth inning, there was the continued futility at the plate with men on base, especially a leadoff runner.
“We had some good at bats today, we hit some balls hard, just right at guys. We didn’t chase,” Martinez said.
The Nationals had one leadoff man among their five left on base Friday. That came in the sixth, when Juan Soto walked for his only time on base.
Up next came Josh Bell, who put together an eight-pitch at-bat, but missed on a 91 MPH fastball from Ginkel for strike three.
Schwarber followed and mis-timed a 1-1 change-up, dribbling it back to the mound for a force out of Soto at second.
In those two at-bats, the Nats two prized off-season offensive acquisitions had hit the ball a total of about 50 feet. Josh Harrison hit a long fly ball for his only out on a 2-for-3 night, and that threat was over.
The club had Harrison and Starlin Castro on first and second in the seventh, but left them stranded.
Trea Turner reached third after a one-out walk in the third before Soto and Bell grounded out, both on sharp defensive plays by the Diamondbacks.
In the fifth, Harrison singled with one out but was thrown out at second when Castro swung and missed on a hit-and-run.
“We always talk about Starlin’s bat-to-ball skills, it was 1-0, and (Widener) was pounding the strike zone and I thought he could get a ball to at least put in play and hit somewhere hard. But that particular pitch he didn’t, and we got caught.”
Bell, with a .143 average in the few at-bats he’s gotten so far, struggled the most, striking out twice on an 0-for-4 night, including a checked swing for strike three on the at-bat before Schwarber’s homer.
The offensive woes almost ruined, and certainly stole some of the thunder from a milestone night for Max Scherzer. The Nats’ ace struck out 10 Diamondbacks to run his career total to 2,807, surpassing Cy Young for 22nd place on the all-time strikeout list. The 13-year veteran, in his 14th season, allowed just two hits and two walks over seven scoreless innings.
But Soto was the last Nationals’ baserunner before Scherzer’s exit from a scoreless duel, so Scherzer took his second no-decision in three starts.
Brad Hand earned his first win of the season with a scoreless ninth, allowing one hit.
“The way Max went out and pitched the ball today was unbelievable,“ said Schwarber. “We all wish that we could have gotten him the win there and scored some runs earlier for him. I think if that’s the Max that we’re going to get all year he’s going to get a lot of wins.”