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Pitch, hit and run (and win)

May 23, 2015, 12:05 AM EDT

USA Today Sports Images

At the end of a night in which his starting pitcher tossed eight brilliant innings, recorded a key base hit and scored the eventual game-winning run, Matt Williams summed up Max Scherzer in six words.

“He loves to play the game,” the Nationals manager said.

Why wouldn’t Scherzer be having the time of his life right now? Secure for life with the richest contract ever given a free-agent pitcher. Sporting a 1.67 ERA heading into Memorial Day weekend. Leading the best rotation in baseball on the best team in baseball over the last 3-plus weeks.

And when it all comes together for the right-hander like it did during Friday night’s 2-1 victory over the Phillies, his true value to the Nationals becomes obvious.

“He’s got one of the best mentalities out there on the bump,” said Bryce Harper, who (ho-hum) hit his 11th homer in 14 games. “He’s always fighting, always scratching and trying to do what he can do to help this team win, if that’s in the box or if that’s on the mound. He’s unbelievable out there, and it’s fun to watch. I mean truly, it’s a blast to be behind.”

The Scherzer who starred Friday night was exactly the guy Mike Rizzo envisioned when he handed him $210 million in January, not only an elite pitcher but a guy who takes complete control of a ballgame and never lets it go.

On the mound, Scherzer tossed eight innings of 1-run ball, eschewing a couple of early, well-struck balls that didn’t prove too damaging — thanks in part to Denard Span’s range in center field — and then cruising late. He allowed only four hits and a walk, putting two men on base in the same inning only once along the way.

And in pitching as deep into the game as he did, Scherzer continued to set the standard for a staff workhorse. He has now gone at least seven innings in each of his last seven starts. Only Livan Hernandez (eight straight such starts in 2005) owns a longer streak in club history.

“You can give your bullpen some rest and just go out there and compete as long as you can,” Scherzer said. “That’s why I love being a starting pitcher and I love going out there and giving you everything I got. When I can go deep into a game, it helps the ballclub even more, and that’s something I take pride in.”

Scherzer may not have earned his fifth win of the season, though, if not for his exploits at the plate and then on the bases. He led off the bottom of the sixth with a single to right, his fourth hit in 21 at-bats, which ain’t too shabby for a former AL pitcher, despite the modesty he displays in public.

“I realize what I am,” he said with a smile. “I have slider bat-speed. Slider bat-speed cheating the heater.”

There was no cheating, though, moments later when Scherzer put his legs to the test. When Ian Desmond launched a drive to deep center field, Scherzer ran nearly all the way to second base, then turned on the jets once he realized the ball would carom off the wall. He kept going around third, and despite a bit of a stumble, composed himself well enough to score standing up as the crowd of 35,893 roared with approval.

“We would just as soon him not have to score from first every time he pitches,” Williams said. “But again, he made a good read, got all the way to second base, slowed down in case the ball was caught and didn’t pass second base. And once the ball kicked off the wall, he’s able to score. So, good baserunning from Max that allowed us to get the second run.”

It didn’t happen by accident. Scherzer actually had been working on that type of scenario recently with Desmond and first base coach Tony Tarasco.

“It’s funny,” Desmond said. “The other day we were out at second base during BP, and he was talking to me about baserunning, getting reads off the bat, stuff like that. It’s little things like that that make him special, that make him the competitor that he is.”

“Just watching balls, try to get the right reads,” Scherzer said. “Especially when you’re on second base, that’s where all the reads come into play. Just the little things like that, that you have to pay attention to, because stuff like that can help you win the game when you make the right read to run the bases. It can help me, it can help the rest of the team and the other guys do a great job of that as well.”

Right now, Scherzer is doing a whole lot of things that help the Nationals. And they couldn’t be happier to have him.

  1. Theophilus T.S. - May 23, 2015 at 12:29 AM

    I said same as Wms. on last thread without benefit of his post game remarks. So it must be obvious.

    • Theophilus T.S. - May 23, 2015 at 12:35 AM

      To myself. Strasburg compartmentalizes, sees only what he is doing — and is discombulated when things don’t go as planned. It’s like standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon and only looking down.

  2. veejh - May 23, 2015 at 1:29 AM

    Scherzer is officially a fan of NL ball right now. Now that he’s gotten a taste of providing on the other side of the ball, he will transform into Manimal. Yes, Manimal.

    • dgourds - May 23, 2015 at 2:59 AM

      That is so funny–this past winter when full season ticket holders got to talk with Mike Rizzo, I asked him if he signed Scherzer because the team needed a “manimal” to overcome the 800 lb gorilla in the room (the two previous devastating playoff losses). Mike replied something to the effect that his primary goal was to get back to the playoffs and that the team make up was strong. Scherzer exemplifies that make up. He did point out that his playoff record was just okay, however. (Not to assume we’ll even make the playoffs!)

  3. Sonny G 10 - May 23, 2015 at 1:43 AM

    Scherzer is setting the bar high for the rest of the rotation. Love it. Hope Roark picks up where he left off last year when he takes Fister’s slot.

  4. faridrushdi - May 23, 2015 at 2:04 AM

    I recall writing here on Mark’s site last winter something to the effect of, “Bryce Harper is never going to become a superstar. He’s likely going to be a good-but-not great player, someone capable of hitting .280-25-85 but no more, and that’s okay because the Nats don’t need him to be a superstar, just a guy who stays healthy.”

    I hope that by the end of the season I will be happy to accept being so wrong.

  5. rayvil01 - May 23, 2015 at 5:17 AM

    As we say in golf, Max is “Money!” He’s earning it, too.

    I thought Drew was at his very best last night. Utley hit a bloop on a nasty pitch. A six-hopper to the exact right spot in the infield. And, it didn’t phase him a bit. Bore down and got the next two. He’s getting tougher and more gritty right in front of us. Good signs for bigger pressure situations down the road.

    • stoatva - May 23, 2015 at 8:02 AM

      And he wiped out Herrera for the third out, who’s been killing us this year.

    • NatsNut - May 23, 2015 at 8:47 AM

      I found myself trusting Drew a little more yesterday than I have in 2.5 years. Nice feeling.

      • masterfishkeeper - May 23, 2015 at 9:02 AM

        Me too. I find it far easier to watch Storen than Soriano, who always needed BABIP luck.

      • Joe Seamhead - May 23, 2015 at 9:22 AM

        Add me to the list of having more trust in Drew. But I enjoyed the games when Soriano pitched, too.I like living on the edge, and up until the All Star break he was pretty darn good.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 23, 2015 at 9:39 AM

        He wasn’t panicking after he was BABIP’d by Utley.

        The only panic was SWM aka Nattygoats who was freaking out in the in-game thread.

        Storen’s K of Howard was filthy.

  6. Section 222 - May 23, 2015 at 6:07 AM

    Greetings from China. Nothing like watching Drew lock down a save right after breakfast. Scherzer has been worth every penny so far. Was this our first 8 inning outing of this season?

    Might have to wake up early to see some of the Saturday afternoon game.

    • NatsNut - May 23, 2015 at 12:11 PM

      Are you there with a chorus by any chance? I overheard someone in my condo lobby talking about a chorus going to China and I wondered.

  7. Joe Seamhead - May 23, 2015 at 6:41 AM

    Over the past couple of years the media dwelled on Harper vs. Trout comparisons, and locally Harper vs. Machado. All three are fine young ball players, but I see Trout and Harper as being the type guys that only come around once in a generation.Most of the clowns doing those comparison pieces seemed to have a perverse prejudice against Bryce. So far this year I haven’t heard as any knocks on him, if you can imagine that!
    I have watched a lot of baseball over the years,and I don’t think that there has been two players of the caliber of Trout and Harper since Mays and Mantle. I can’t express how satisfying,delightful,and fortunate it is to be able to watch Harper both live,and on TV so often. As to Trout, I rarely will see him live, but the media gives us plenty of chances to see him. As to Bryce vs. Trout? I really hope we get to see them play against each other in the World Series.

    BTW,Trout made a great throw to the plate against the Red Sox last night:

    • laddieblahblah - May 23, 2015 at 7:35 AM

      Bo Jackson was pretty good, but I wonder how much of that was PED-fueled. Bo is the one and only player I would put in Mantle’s class as a natural baseball talent. Mays wasn’t even close.

      • Doc - May 23, 2015 at 7:52 AM

        “Mays wasn’t even close.” Hunh???

        Might wanna check Willie vs. Mickey’s lifetime stats. Mantle worked out with his dad every night during baseball season. Willie did most of his development on his own. Apart from that, there are no real bio-metrics to determine ‘natural’ from ‘unnatural’.

      • Joe Seamhead - May 23, 2015 at 8:18 AM

        laddie, Bo Jackson, had he dedicated himself exclusively to baseball from the beginning might have ended up being the greatest player ever, but we’ll never know. He also was rushed up to the majors before he had really learned how to play the game, imho, yet he was still great.

        As to the Mantle/Mays argument? I pretty much haven’t argued that debate in over 40 years. Mantle was my hero when I was a kid, but as I grew up I really grew to appreciate Mays’ greatness. Like I said, I don’t think that there has been two players of their stature playing at the same time since. Until now.

      • unkyd59 - May 23, 2015 at 8:58 AM

        Struggling a little, here, try a understand how anybody could say that “Say Hey!” would take a back seat to anybody, in the “natural baseball” department… Care to elucidate, Laddie…?

      • unkyd59 - May 23, 2015 at 9:00 AM

        “Natural baseball talent…).
        More coffee, over here…?

      • Jfmii - May 23, 2015 at 9:39 AM

        That is ridiculous (Jackson and Mays)

    • ehay2k - May 23, 2015 at 11:38 AM

      Nice throw. The knock on Trout has been his arm strength, and the long bounce off the wall and the fact that he was moving towards home helped him there. But he does seem to be pretty accurate.

      Now if Bryce or Werth were in left, would they have sent Napoli?

      • Joe Seamhead - May 23, 2015 at 12:24 PM

        Matt Joyce was playing LF. Trout was in center.One of the reasons Trout tends to have accurate throws is that he has well formed fundamentals. He often uses a crow hop as throws.

      • Joe Seamhead - May 23, 2015 at 12:33 PM

        BTW, the knock on his arm strength is justified, in my opinion.It’s kind of surprising, as he pitched when he was still an amateur and supposedly was clocked at 90+.

        Edit from my last post: He often uses a crow hop as he throws.

    • chazzmichaelmichaelzz - May 23, 2015 at 1:30 PM

      “but I see Trout and Harper as being the type guys that only come around once in a generation.”

      True. I like the oxymoronic statement of two events that can only happen once.

  8. Doc - May 23, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    The Nats are not paying Max enough for his hitting—need to bump up his salary a bit!

    • Ghost of Steve M. - May 23, 2015 at 9:33 AM

      Just the full game. Take note Bumgarner. Max might not have 400 foot power but how many pitchers go 1st to home on a double?

      • Doc - May 23, 2015 at 10:00 AM

        Only Max!

  9. Ghost of Steve M. - May 23, 2015 at 8:49 AM

    #marlins place Henderson Alvarez (right shoulder inflammation) & Mat Latos (left knee inflammation) on 15-day DL

    • virginiascopist - May 23, 2015 at 9:45 AM

      I don’t know who I feel more sorry for, the Marlins or the flowers in the flower box just over the left field wall in Nats Park. Both seem to be getting pounded these days.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - May 23, 2015 at 9:50 AM

        LOL. How would you like to be Giancarlo Stanton who has to play in this dysfunction. Stanton is not leading by example these days which in itself is a problem as losing is contagious as we know.

      • Doc - May 23, 2015 at 10:02 AM

        One man, and one man only, is responsible for the annual self-destruction of the Fish—-Loria!

      • NatsNut - May 23, 2015 at 12:14 PM

        that’s hilarious scopist!

  10. stoatva - May 23, 2015 at 9:03 AM

    I assume the SunMonster® will be out in all its glory this afternoon.

  11. Ghost of Steve M. - May 23, 2015 at 9:15 AM

    ESPN with multiple segments on the Nats on SportsCenter. Bryce and Scherzer getting air time and Matt Williams.

  12. Ghost of Steve M. - May 23, 2015 at 9:27 AM

    “Pitch, Hit and Run (and Win)”

    Don’t forget about SCORE the winning run.

  13. thelatencn - May 23, 2015 at 9:41 AM

    Max and Bryce deserve every pixel of air time they get, but let’s not forget that it was Desmond’s double (which would have been a home run just a few feeet to the left, where the wall is lower) that drove Max in. Desmond has been dissed all year in these pages all year, doesn’t get on ESPN and when Kolko interviews him after the game has to answer questions about Max, Bryce and Drew before he gets one about himself.

    • dgourds - May 23, 2015 at 12:05 PM

      When he got one about himself he replied “I swing hard and hope I hit it.” I think he wax annoyed.

  14. Ghost of Steve M. - May 23, 2015 at 9:58 AM

    Austin Davidson of Hagerstown got the #1 play on ESPN SportsCenter.

  15. Joe Seamhead - May 23, 2015 at 10:37 AM

    Check out this amazing slide Trout had last night:

    • Doc - May 23, 2015 at 11:14 AM

      That would have been a hard call for any umpire. I had to look at the replay 3X to catch it.

      • Joe Seamhead - May 23, 2015 at 11:50 AM

        The way he switched hands was almost an impossible move.

    • unkyd59 - May 23, 2015 at 12:16 PM

      That was insane. I’m a Drew fan… But I often recall that Trout was there, when we picked Storen….

      • Eugene in Oregon - May 23, 2015 at 1:05 PM

        A bunch of other teams also passed him up — he wasn’t consensus top 10 by any means.

  16. ehay2k - May 23, 2015 at 11:33 AM

    Storen’s strikeout was very, very impressive to me, because Herrera is a tough out, and had been all night. Drew looks every bit the closer now. His mentality matches his walk up song to a tee.

  17. micksback1 - May 23, 2015 at 12:27 PM

    was at Park last night and heading on down again…this is fun…man i wanted to see Max doused in chocolate






As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...

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