If there’s one thing that likely bothers Washington Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer and his fans it’s his penchant for allowing home runs, which have often led to losses in close games.
So the best thing he could have done for the Nats on Friday night in Philadelphia was fire an eight-inning, five-hit, nine-strikeout, zero-homer gem at cozy Citizens Bank Park in the Nats’ 2-1 win over the Phillies.
Scherzer (5-4) is 1-3 this season in games where he allows a homer, 4-1 when he keeps the ball inside the park.
Max will hope to keep the ball in the ballpark tonight. He has allowed 20 runs-15 scoring on 11 HRs. The only other runs that have scored against him are on a dropped fly ball, a Sac Fly after that error, a ball misplayed in the sun for a double and just 2 RBI singles.— Dave Jageler (@DaveJageler) June 4, 2021
“He was phenomenal tonight,” manager Davey Martinez said afterward.
“He had a great outing, mixed in all his pitches. He threw some really good changeups when he needed to, but all his pitches were electric tonight.”
Scherzer already has a complete game win on his record this season, but this was the first game he’d not allowed a long ball in his last three since May 19.
It was also his longest homer-less outing of the season since he went seven scoreless innings against Arizona on April 16.
He knew from the start of this one that he had a chance to pitch deep.
“They came out really aggressive, and was able to just collect some early outs, early in the ballgame, on a lot of first pitches,” said Scherzer. “So it allowed me to keep the pitch count down in the early part of the game, and then just try to grind out those middle innings to give yourself a shot late in the game.”
Max Scherzer, Wicked Changeups. pic.twitter.com/Ljd0Xp9Wtr— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 5, 2021
Scherzer needed to contain the Phillies all night in a game when the Nationals again scored only two runs to support him, courtesy of a fourth-inning RBI double by Josh Bell and a solo homer by Juan Soto in the sixth.
“I’ve been facing good arms across the game for a handful of starts now, so it was good to be able to scratch that second run across and get the lead,” said Scherzer.
Preserving the lead as Scherzer did was crucial.
“It was huge,” said Martinez. “Your No. 1 guy usually faces No. 1 guys, and [Phillies’ starter Zack] Wheeler threw the ball really well as well, for us to go ahead and get that lead, Soto putting us ahead. Max did everything he could to keep us on top.”
But slight as it was, Scherzer did pitch with the lead, and while he gave it up once in the fifth inning, he met every other challenge to the Nats’ slim margin, making it hard for runners to even advance.
“I just felt like, ‘Hey, I finally got a lead here, going deeper into the game, let’s do everything to protect it, let’s not get caught making a mistake,’” said Scherzer.
“And so fortunately enough I was able to avoid any additional solo shots, or any innings where they were able to scratch runs across.”
Catcher Alex Avila knew Scherzer was on.
Max Scherzer: Reported. Bullying. pic.twitter.com/3l9i6yTyFj— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 5, 2021
“He had all of his pitches working today, great life on his fastball as usual, had real good command with it,” said Avila.
“As the game went on to it seemed like he got stronger and all of his stuff today was electric. He was kind of vintage Max.”
Scherzer didn’t allow a baserunner until the third, when Alec Bohm poked a ground ball through the hole at short, but four pitches later, he was out of the inning on a lineout to center, a sacrifice bunt by Wheeler, and a first-pitch flyout from Odubel Herrera.
The only damage came in the fourth, when Jean Segura led off with a single, stole second, and J.T. Realmuto drove him in with a base hit. But after issuing his only walk of the night to Brad Miller and a single to Andrew McCutchen, he came back from behind 2-0 on Bohm to strike him out.
“It’s just pitch execution,” said Scherzer. “I could have struck out guys early in the game, but the pitches weren’t quite located in order to be able to get that extra strikeout, whereas kind of in those middle innings I was executing and was able to get the swings and misses in those situations.”
No other Phillie wold score or even move up a base for the rest of the night.
Realmuto was hit by a pitch in the sixth, but Alex Avila threw him out easily on a steal attempt.
Max Scherzer, Filthy 85mph Changeup. pic.twitter.com/TMvo0f18d2— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 4, 2021
After stranding McCutchen on second after a seventh-inning double, Scherzer spent some time talking to Martinez and pitching coach Jim Hickey in the dugout, then returned to pitch the eighth.
He struck out Matt Joyce for his ninth strikeout of the night, then got Odubel Herrera to fly out to center.
After that, Martinez felt Scherzer had done his job.
“He was getting tired, I really just wanted him to try to get an out, he got the first out, we let him get the second out, and at that point I wanted to bring Huddy in,” said Martinez.
Daniel Hudson completed the 1-2-3 eighth, and the Phillies last soaring threat of the night died at second base in the ninth when catcher Alex Avila made an unassisted play on Travis Jankowski after catching him leaning off second base.
Brad Hand needed just three pitches to retire Miller to earn his 10th save.