May 7, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
It would be easy to think of the hanging slider Max Scherzer threw Giancarlo Stanton in the eighth inning Wednesday afternoon as the lasting image of his start, because it was the last pitch he threw and because it landed well beyond the left-field wall and because it turned what looked like a blowout victory for the Nationals into something far less secure.
But that one pitch shouldn’t be the real takeaway from Scherzer’s outing, because everything he did up to that point was nothing short of brilliant.
Yes, Scherzer wound up charged with five earned runs on 10 hits over seven-plus innings. But he also struck out 10 Marlins without walking any, which is no small feat.
Indeed, that’s only the 14th time in Nationals history a pitcher has struck out 10 or more batters without a walk. And it’s only the third time any MLB pitcher has done that this season.
“I really thought everything was on today,” Scherzer said. “I really felt like I had command of all the pitches. I was really attacking the zone. I was able to locate the fastball to both sides, and so I can mix and match. That’s when I have success. I feel like that is the product of why I had so much success there through the first seven innings.”
Six starts into his Nationals career, Scherzer’s ability to keep opposing hitters from making contact while not handing out free passes has been perhaps his greatest achievement. He has notched 49 strikeouts while walking only five, a nearly 10-to-1 ratio that ranks among the best in baseball. He hasn’t issued a walk in three of his last four starts.
“I’m really happy with that,” the right-hander said. “That’s one of the first things you look at as a pitcher: How many walks you give up. When you have an outing where you don’t give up any walks in seven innings, that’s always going to put a smile on your face, because you know you are going after them and you’re not going to give in, in any situation.”
Now, about that Stanton homer…
Scherzer’s day easily could have been done after he struck out Reid Brignac to end the seventh inning. His pitch count sat at 101. He was due to lead off the bottom of the inning.
But with the Nationals ahead 7-2 at the time, with their bullpen overworked during this stretch of 16 consecutive days of baseball and with Scherzer telling his coaching staff beforehand he was good to throw up to 115 pitches in this game, he was allowed to continue.
Things didn’t go as well as hoped. Dee Gordon and Martin Prado each singled, setting the stage for Stanton’s big blast.
“As long as you’re out of ‘slam’ reach, for me anyway, then you go with your guy depending on where he’s at,” manager Matt Williams said of his decision to let Scherzer take the mound for the eighth. “And we know that Max is good to 115. So after he came off in the seventh, when we had the conversation on how he was feeling, he said: ‘I’m good to go.’ And then they got a couple of quick hits and Stanton took a good swing at that one. So that’s the way the game goes. But as long as we’re out of slam reach there, then we’re comfortable with not matching up in that regard.”
Scherzer nearly got out of the jam, but his 3-2 slider to Stanton hovered over the plate too much, and he paid the price for it.
“I was trying to break that slider into the zone,” he said. “And where I started, I just needed to finish it, and I didn’t finish it. It hung right there so he could hit it a country mile. It’s just something you live and learn and you get better at, even when you don’t have success. You go into next time realizing what you have to do to execute that pitch in that situation.”
Scherzer still received a standing ovation when he departed following that homer. And thanks to scoreless relief work from Tanner Roark and Drew Storen, he still emerged from the afternoon with a win.
So what if his final line suggested a less-impressive outing? Scherzer and the Nationals knew he pitched an exceptional game on this afternoon.
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