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Max Scherzer gives up four home runs early, but Nationals walk off on Braves, 6-5 final

Max Scherzer gave up four home run, struck out nine batters, and kept it close enough that his teammates could rally to win...

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into his first start of the 2021 season, Max Scherzer hadn’t pitched in competitive action for ten days, going back to a sim game in West Palm Beach, and the last few of the ten days were spent in a GM Mike Rizzo-mandated quarantine as the club sorted out their COVID-19 issues after four players tested positive and seven more were identified through contact tracing and put into actual quarantine, leading to the postponement of the three-game set with the New York Mets that was supposed to start the season.

Having finally been cleared to return to action, the Nationals worked out in D.C. on Sunday and Monday, and then finally got the 2021 schedule started last night.

Going into the first outing of his 14th big league campaign, Scherzer said he was excited and ready to get back on the mound.

“Just anxious to finally get our season going,” the 36-year-old starter said.

“You’re always anxious to start the season, then we have that big hiccup, so you’re sitting around waiting for it to start, and just excited to get back pitching in Nats Park with fans. That is going to be the fun part.

“So real excited for it, excited for our fans, and excited for the opportunity we have.”

In spite of the long layoff after his previous outing, Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said before the game that Scherzer wouldn’t be limited in any way on the mound.

“Our biggest thing is to keep an eye on him and let him do his thing for as long as he can do it,” Martinez said.

“But Max is Max, as we all know, he’s going to go out there and compete, but we’re going to keep a close eye on him.”

Scherzer gave up four runs in six innings, all on solo home runs, with Ronald Acuña, Jr., on the first pitch of the game, and Freddie Freeman, with one down in the first, getting to the Nationals’ starter early, before Dansby Swanson, in the second, and Acuña, Jr. again in the top of the third, hit two more long balls off the three-time Cy Young winner, who settled in and did retire the final ten batters he faced in what ended up a 91-pitch outing.

Max Scherzer’s Line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 9 Ks, 4 HRs, 91 P, 60 S, 2/4 GO/FO.

It was tied at four when Scherzer left the game, and the Braves took a 5-4 lead in the top of the seventh, but the Nationals rallied with a run in the eighth to tie it up before Juan Soto’s walk-off winner ended the game, 6-5 final.

“It was great,” Scherzer said of the exciting conclusion to the season opener. “Watching it in [the clubhouse], had a beer ready, so as soon as we got that hit cracked that beer open.”

What changed after he gave up the four solo shots early?

“Just getting back in the routine of things and just throwing the game I can throw,” Scherzer said. “They’re a great team and they can explode like that any time, you make mistakes they make you play.

“Weird, frustrating start but we won the game, that’s what matters most, and find a way to be able to go at least six innings, eat up some of those innings so we didn’t have to use all the bullpen arms, and get those guys in there and they did a great job today, and then the offense came through in the end, that’s what you want. So it was an all-around good team win.”

“I was executing pitches and then I get sloppy and leave one over the middle of the plate,” Scherzer said of the home runs he gave up.

“I just wasn’t quite executing on full-tilt there early. You’ve got to live with that. So you turn the page, move on, we got out of here with a win, so just get into my next start.”

“I figured, hey look, he hasn’t faced hitters in a while,” Scherzer’s manager said, “and when I watched him go out there, I didn’t really think — we talked about this — I didn’t really think he was finishing his pitches early on in the game, and then all of a sudden he settled down and he started finishing his pitches, and as you can tell, he retired 12 out of 13 guys and no one really hit the ball hard.

“That’s the Max that I’ve seen for many, many years, so we talked about it today a little bit, it’s just a matter of him getting out there and getting comfortable. I think he went out there, he was amped up, he was excited to have fans out there, and then he just couldn’t finish his pitches early.”

“I just think that they have — just made some mistakes up and those guys over there, you’ve got some hitters in the lineup over there,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said after joining in the last few days and jumping right in the mix, working together with Scherzer for the first time.

“Some really good hitters, and if you miss your spot just by a little bit they’re going to make you pay.

“And there’s a couple times that they hit those homers on pitches that they actually hit our spots.”

Scherzer and Lucroy also decided to switch things up a little as the outing went on, leaning more on his offspeed stuff as they adjusted to what Braves’ hitters were doing.

“Just kind of response to how they were attacking me,” Scherzer explained. “I thought we needed to try to get some of those pitches going. I just felt like working with Lucroy there, ‘Hey this is what we’re going to start doing. We’re going to start executing these pitches no matter what, it doesn’t matter who’s standing in the box, we’re going to execute some sliders and changeups.’ That’s a strength of mine. I needed to start throwing a little bit more to my strengths, and found some results because of it.”