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Max Scherzer fills stopper role in Nationals’ 5-1 win over Marlins

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Max Scherzer dealt with foreign substance protocols and the aggressive Marlins in another solid start for the Nats’ ace...

MLB: Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

All the talk coming out of Max Scherzer’s start against the Philadelphia Phillies in Citizens Bank Park this past week, was about the new protocols for monitoring the use of foreign substances, and Philly skipper Joe Girardi’s decision to call for additional scrutiny of the Washington Nationals’ three-time Cy Young award winner.

Scherzer, who held the Phillies to a run on two hits in five innings of work in that outing, walked three and struck out eight in a 106-pitch effort.

“I think early he wasn’t trying to step on it,” manager Davey Martinez explained, “... and as he got going and as he started progressing, he started throwing the ball really well. And typical Max, he had all his pitches working, he threw some pretty good pitches. His pitch count was up, those guys are patient hitters, they’re good hitters, but he got through it, and he gave us five strong innings.”

“They did a good job of grinding me and fouling off a lot of pitches,” Scherzer said after the abbreviated outing, which was his first back after an IL stint for a groin tweak, “...and so just out there trying to pitch and find my way through this.

“For me, I didn’t go out there on full-tilt, in the first three innings, trying to get a gauge of how the groin would respond in game. I can throw a bullpen all day long and I can tell you I’m great, but you never truly know how the groin is going to respond to a game situation, so, I wasn’t able to finally start getting into my legs and really start going after some fastballs there until the fourth or fifth.”

Having tested the groin, and dealt with his first experience under the new protocols MLB has in place, Scherzer could just focus on his work Sunday afternoon in Miami, though his club needed their ace to step up after two straight losses to the Marlins.

“We just got to come back tomorrow,” the Nationals’ skipper said after Saturday’s loss to the Fish. “We’ve got Scherzer on the mound tomorrow, and try to win tomorrow.”

“You got Max on the bump tomorrow,” teammate Josh Bell said on Saturday night.

“So that takes a little bit of pressure off of us. We know we just got to scratch a couple of runs across and let him do his thing, so no reason to panic now, we’ve been playing really well and we’re going to continue to do that.”

No pressure, Max. How did the three-time Cy Young award-winner respond?

Scherzer, who tossed a complete game against the Fish when he faced them in D.C. back in April, giving up just five hits and one earned run, while walking no one and striking out nine in nine innings, went six strong on Sunday, giving up five hits and a run in a 102-pitch effort in a 5-1 win. He walked two, both in the sixth, and struck out seven, with 21 swinging strikes, 10 on his fastball, seven on his slider, and got 15 called strikes, 10 with his fastball, which sat at 93.6 MPH and got up to 95.7.

The one run Scherzer allowed came in the bottom of the first, when Jazz Chisholm, Jr. hit a leadoff triple and scored on an RBI double by Jesús Aguilar. Both walks came in the bottom of the sixth inning, but after leadoff and one-out free passes, he recorded back-to-back Ks, to finish strong. Scherzer gave a lot of credit to his catcher.

“Alex [Avila] did a great job behind the plate tonight. He was putting down exactly what I was thinking. So when you get into a rhythm with your catcher it allows you to execute, and just was — didn’t allow walks there until the sixth, so didn’t put myself in a position to let an inning explode and was able to execute when I needed to.”

The trouble in the sixth came a half-inning after the Nationals scored four on two, two-run home runs by Trea Turner and Josh Bell in a long-ish top of the inning, that Scherzer said played a role, though he was frustrated it did.

“It was a long inning, we had a bunch of offense there in the fifth,” Scherzer said, “and just wasn’t quite as sharp when I came back out, but I’ve been in those situations before, where you have a long inning and you have to come back out dialed in, and I just didn’t do it.

“That’s really frustrating for me, because once you get those runs and you get the big lead like that, it’s go out there and attack, that’s what I pride myself on, is making sure I throw up a zero in that inning and that led to pitch count getting up a little bit higher than I would like to, and didn’t allow me to even get into the seventh.

“It is what it is, was able to make some pitches when I needed to, but the biggest thing was that our offense went. When you get two, two-run shots — I’m a big believer in I don’t care about your solo shots. I want your two-run shots, so those guys were good today with the two-run shots.”

“I love whipping on our guys when they all want to celebrate their solo shots,” he added later, returning to his fondness for two-run home runs, “but I get really excited when they hit their two- and three-run shots, because that’s usually when you win a ballgame.”

And his thoughts on his second start under the new foreign substance protocols?

“I mean, sweet, check my hat, check my glove, check my belt, here we go, whatever.”