Skip to content

The 5 best pitching performances in Nats history

Jun 22, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT


When Max Scherzer painted his 1-hit, 16-strikeout masterpiece last week in Milwaukee, the thought immediately came to mind that we might have just witnessed the best pitching performance in Nationals history. And then six days later, Scherzer perhaps topped that masterpiece with his almost-perfect-game-still-no-hitter against the Pirates.

Which leaves me now wondering what exactly is the greatest pitching performance in Nats history? There are several candidates, including several within the last nine months. But there are a few from farther back in the franchise’s decade in D.C. that deserve some consideration, as well.

So let’s try to rank them, 1 through 5, using both statistical and emotional evidence to put together a full comprehensive list. There’s certainly room for debate with these, but here is one mere reporter’s opinion…

Final line: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 13 K, 116 pitches, 84 strikes
Bill James’ Game Score: 92
Box score:
Comment: Back in the summer of 2005, D.C. had fallen in love again with an old friend: Baseball. The Nationals’ inaugural season would’ve been enough for most local fans who had waited 33 long years to have a hometown ballclub of their own. But then the Nats burst out to a 50-31 record during the season’s first half, holding first place in the NL East at the All-Star break and turning RFK Stadium into a magical place on a nightly basis. The rest of that summer (and fall) turned sour, with the Nats going 31-50 over the second half to finish at .500 and in last place in the division. But Patterson’s performance on this sweltering August night remains one of the most memorable in club history. The talented-but-enigmatic right-hander was on a crazy role that summer, with a 1.02 ERA and 54 strikeouts over a stretch of six starts, and this was the best of them. Patterson struck out 13 Dodgers during a 4-hit shutout. He didn’t walk a batter. The Nats rode that performance plus a grand slam from Brad Wilkerson to a 7-0 victory before a crowd of 35,484. And Patterson was on top of the world. “It’s been an amazing year,” he said. “The dream I had coming into this season was to play just like this, and it’s working. … This is what I’ve always believed that I could do.” He didn’t do it much longer, but he (and Nats fans) will always have the memories of this night.

Final line:
7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 14 K, 94 pitches, 65 strikes
Bill James’ Game Score:
Box score:
Not very long ago, Stephen Strasburg’s debut stood as the best performance in Nationals history, and there was no debate to be had about it. It has since been surpassed by three other games, but that doesn’t diminish at all what the young right-hander did on that magical June night in 2010. Taking the mound with more hype and expectation than anybody (pitcher or position player) ever had for his big-league debut, Strasburg somehow managed to exceed it all with a performance well beyond what anybody could have imagined. He struck out 14 batters, establishing a club record that stood until one week ago, and he did so despite pitching only seven innings. He became the first pitcher in MLB history to strike out at least 10 batters without walking any in his debut. And he brought so much joy to every one of the 40,315 in attendance at Nationals Park, who perhaps for the first time truly felt like their team was on a path toward something special.

Final line: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K, 104 pitches, 79 strikes
Bill James’ Game Score:
Box score:
This one stood as the unquestioned best performance in club history until only one week ago. On the final day of the regular season last September, Zimmermann authored the first no-hitter in Nats history, the first no-hitter by a Washington pitcher since 1931. The right-hander was brilliant throughout, issuing only a fifth-inning walk to Justin Bour. But things got strange as the game proceeded. Because it was the final day of the season and there was nothing at stake (in the standings, at least) Matt Williams stuck with his plan to remove all of his regular position players at various points along the way. Which meant when Zimmermann took the mound for the ninth inning, only catcher Wilson Ramos remained from the starting lineup. That proved fortuitous, though, because who knows what would have happened had rookie Steven Souza Jr. not been inserted into left field at the start of the ninth. Turns out it was Souza who saved Zimmermann’s no-hitter with a dramatic, diving catch of Christian Yelich’s drive to deep left-center. Zimmermann’s reaction — from dejected slumped shoulders to arms raised jubilation — perfectly captured a moment no one will ever forget.

Final line: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 16 K, 119 pitches, 86 strikes
Bill James’ Game Score:
Box score:
No, it wasn’t a no-hitter, but Scherzer’s start last week in Milwaukee was better than Zimmermann’s no-no nine months earlier. Seriously. He struck out 16 batters, shattering Strasburg’s club record. He issued one walk (in the bottom of the eighth). And the one hit he allowed was a broken-bat blooper to shallow right field by Carlos Gomez. Yelich smoked that ball off Zimmermann in the ninth inning last September, denied only by Souza’s brilliant catch. Nobody in Milwaukee hit the ball hard off Scherzer. And though it’s not the only measurement of pitching excellence, Scherzer’s Game Score of 100 in a 9-inning start has been topped only five times in baseball history. This was the best pitching performance in Nationals history, until…

Final line: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 HBP, 10 K, 106 pitches, 82 strikes
Bill James’ Game Score:
Box score:
OK, so Scherzer’s Game Score on Saturday actually went down to a mere 97. Like I said, that’s only one way to measure a pitching performance. Let’s be honest: This one had to top the previous one, because of the big, fat zero in the hit column. And because of the fact that if not for that one errant 2-2 slider to Jose Tabata with two outs in the ninth, if not for Tabata’s elbow finding its way into the path of the ball, this might well have been the 24th perfect game in baseball history, the first by anybody wearing a Washington uniform or wearing another city’s uniform while pitching in Washington. It was simply phenomenal. The Pirates had no chance. Really, there weren’t any really close calls. Yes, Danny Espinosa made a nice play on Pedro Alvarez’s grounder to the shifted right side of the infield. But there was no diving catch, no smoked line drive that somebody miraculously caught. Scherzer on Saturday was as good as you can get. And so he earns the award for Best Pitching Performance in Nationals History.

Honorable mention: Ramon Ortiz carries a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Cardinals on Sept. 4, 2006; Jordan Zimmermann throws a 2-hit, 12-strikeout shutout in San Diego on June 8, 2014; Gio Gonzalez throws a 1-hitter (a chopper over Adam LaRoche’s head at first base) in New York on Sept. 9, 2013; Pedro Astacio throws a 2-hit shutout over the Braves at RFK Stadium, needing only 89 pitches, on Aug. 15, 2006.

  1. rayvil01 - Jun 22, 2015 at 1:15 PM

    The three top performances have all been in the last 71 games. The top two are within the last 8 days. We’re living the Good Old Days right now.

    If Fister returns to form and Stras gets to near form then this is the rotation we thought it would be.

    • adcwonk - Jun 22, 2015 at 1:49 PM

      “We’re living the Good Old Days right now.”

      Indeed we are! Let’s enjoy what we have!

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 22, 2015 at 2:29 PM

        Day game Thursday — Scherzer & Shadows! Don’t miss it if you can!

      • adcwonk - Jun 22, 2015 at 3:12 PM

        Over here ( it says JZ and Fister for Wed/Thrs (Tuesday is left blank)

      • therealjohnc - Jun 22, 2015 at 3:44 PM

        I think Fister is slated to go Thursday – although (since I have tickets) I’d be happy to be wrong.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 22, 2015 at 8:05 PM

        Wait, Fister? Not that I object, but if they’re giving Scherzer an extra day, that changes my plans.

  2. natsguy1 - Jun 22, 2015 at 1:32 PM

    I’ll throw one out there that I think belongs on this list: Zimmermann’s 91-pitch, complete game one-hit shutout against the Reds on April 26, 2013. I think Zimmermann actually pitched better that day than he did when he got his no-no, and against a good-hitting Reds team instead of a generally crappy Marlins team that had packed up and was ready to hit the beach. More a Maddux-like surgical strike of off-balance futility than a blitz of strikeouts but an absolute gem. Best game IMO before Scherzer the last two times out.

    • nats128 - Jun 22, 2015 at 1:48 PM

      Great point!

    • stoatva - Jun 22, 2015 at 4:10 PM

      I was at that one (and Strasburg’s debut) so I agree. Also saw Marquis throw a Maddux against Lincecum and the Giants a few years back. Not sure how that one compares statistically, but it was a hella game.

      • natsguy1 - Jun 22, 2015 at 4:43 PM

        You know what, I forgot that Marquis game, but with good reason — that was the night I got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch! Was a little too buzzed with excitement to pay much attention to the actual pitchers. 5 hits, no walks, no runs. Game score of 84, not too shabby.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 22, 2015 at 8:07 PM

        Whoa! Way cool, natsguy1!!

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 22, 2015 at 8:08 PM

        And Jason Marquis was the starter for the Cardinals on Ortiz’s game.

    • veejh - Jun 22, 2015 at 4:57 PM

      The next day, Gio threw a 1 hit complete game. I was at both games.

  3. adcwonk - Jun 22, 2015 at 1:42 PM

    Total tangent — got newposted:

    1. MLB Network analyst, former player Darryl Hamilton among 2 dead in domestic shooting near Houston

    2. Chris Sale (White Sox) had pitched 5 straight games of 12+ K’s. (!!) And only once did he finish the 8th inning.

    Over the five starts: 37.1 IP 17H, 3 ER, 65 K’s, 6 BB’s. ERA 0.72

    OK, now, back to Scherzer:

    WaPo says that since 1961 there have been 47 pitchers who have accumulated a game score of 97 or higher over nine innings pitched. Just three have produced two such games in the same season: Scherzer, Pedro Martinez (2000) and Nolan Ryan (1990). Only Scherzer did it in consecutive games

    • nats128 - Jun 22, 2015 at 1:50 PM

      1. I saw that. Tragic and he was good analyst.

    • adcwonk - Jun 22, 2015 at 1:50 PM

      (that’s “Chris Sale (White Sox) has pitched . . . ” — as in: his streak is current)

  4. Drew - Jun 22, 2015 at 1:53 PM

    I’m still partial to the Levale Speigner-Johan Santana reverse lock.

    Sure, it was only six innings, but what a night. Levale won two games in his career!

    • adcwonk - Jun 22, 2015 at 10:06 PM

      I wonder if we can sabermetrically compute the biggest reverse-lock wins. That’s gotta rank up there.

      Only two wins in his career . . . wow . . .

  5. nats128 - Jun 22, 2015 at 2:03 PM

    This sounds iffy to me whether he rests or goes on the DL

  6. Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 22, 2015 at 2:27 PM

    Kinda partial to the Ortiz game, having been at that one. FTR, a game score of 78 — would have been 80 if Frank had let him finish it.

    Last-place Nats, first-place Cardinals, no expectations. No score through 6, and after Austin Kearns hit a two-run shot for the lead in the 6th, Ortiz led off the bottom of the 7th with a home run himself.

    Plus, we were sitting right in front of two couples who were travelling around the country seeing ball games, and early on, I overheard one wife complaining to the other about her husband, who ALWAYS had to say, “There goes the no-hitter!” for Every. Fricken. Game. and she was way past sick of it.

    • Toot D. Blan - Jun 22, 2015 at 3:37 PM

      FP’s ex-wife?

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:57 PM


    • therealjohnc - Jun 22, 2015 at 3:46 PM

      Didn’t Ortiz also hit his only career HR in that game? Have yourself a day, Mr. Ortiz!

      • therealjohnc - Jun 22, 2015 at 3:52 PM

        Hah! Missed that line about the HR the first time I read through Sec 3’s post. It was his only HR in a 12 year career (I confirmed through B-R).

        Also from B-R, a great note: Ramon Ortiz’s middle name is “Diogenes.” Still looking for an honest umpire …

      • letswin3 - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:06 PM

        Great line, John.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:44 PM

        The look on his face was exactly that of a Little Leaguer who didn’t quite believe it was real, but he was thrilled.

        I turned to my wife and said “This is his Best. Day. Ever.”

  7. Eugene in Oregon - Jun 22, 2015 at 2:52 PM

    Speaking of Washington pitchers who have thrown no-hitters, I don’t know if it was some sort of cosmic karma or just pure coincidence (by nature, I lean toward coincidence), but as Max Scherzer was pitching his no-hitter on Sunday afternoon, I drove past Walter Johnson’s birthplace in Humboldt, KS. I regret that I didn’t stop.

    • scnatsfan - Jun 22, 2015 at 3:00 PM

      When looking back on their lives I bet very few people regret not spending more time in Humboldt, KS.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 22, 2015 at 3:01 PM

        Okay, I don’t regret it that much.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:46 PM

      You can stop there Thursday, Mr. inOregon.

      Because you have to drive by again. You know that, right?

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:54 PM

        No, afraid not. Drove from Dallas to Kansas to drop my two debate teams off in Lawrence. Flying home from Kansas City (where I did manage to visit the Negro Leagues Museum).

  8. Toot D. Blan - Jun 22, 2015 at 2:56 PM

    “But there was no diving catch, no smoked line drive that somebody miraculously caught.”

    But there was Michael Taylor’s over-the-top-of-the-wall grab to steal a home run from Jordy Mercer in the third inning. Unlike the Brewers game, you can’t say there were no hard-hit balls off Scherzer in the no-hitter.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:47 PM

      It wasn’t over the wall, actually, but it was still a nice catch.

  9. rlndtln - Jun 22, 2015 at 3:38 PM

    The one that is skipped here that is a must is JZM against the Giants in the last year playoff.He retired 20 in a row and were it not for the idiocy of MW would have completed the game.What I take into consideration is the importance of the game.This was a must win playoff and I can not blame JZM for the managers mistake.

    • adcwonk - Jun 22, 2015 at 4:14 PM

      Fits in quite well with the “MW leaves his starters in too long” meme, eh?

      Oh . . wait

      • Toot D. Blan - Jun 22, 2015 at 4:30 PM

        Fits in well with the general “MW doesn’t know how to handle a pitching staff” meme, though. Think he would have dared to go out to pull his starter in that playoff game if it was Scherzer not Zimmermann, all else being the same – including it being the pitcher’s next game after a no-hitter?

      • adcwonk - Jun 22, 2015 at 4:41 PM

        I’m not up for debating that move all over again.

        But hindsight is 20-20. We’re supposed to have an overtaxed BP that’s not so good (or so folks here have said), but then jump on MW for trying to get the seventh inning out of a pitcher — except for when he takes a guy out and the reliever spoils it. The criticism of, e.g., the last game the Nats lost — Fister’s game — was completely unwarranted. Fister threw four ground balls in a row, including one that should have been a DP ball to Ian, and MW was blasted as an idiot. Hindsight’s 20-20.

    • IsawTeddywin - Jun 22, 2015 at 4:29 PM

      Sorry, if there was any idiocy involved it was bringing JZ out for the 9th at all in a “must win” game. Storen is not good with inherited runners, why take the chance that Zimmermann couldn’t finish it off?

      • adcwonk - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:01 PM

        Well, there ya’ go.

        1 person says he’s an idiot for leaving him in too long, and the other says he’s in idiot for taking him out too soon.

        Point proved. Thanks guys!


      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:49 PM

        Yes, but the point is, they agree he’s an idiot. So that must prove it.

      • letswin3 - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:57 PM

        Could they BOTH be right, Wonk?

      • IsawTeddywin - Jun 22, 2015 at 6:57 PM

        I said “if”, not necessarily that it was. If it hadn’t been a playoff game, with us already a game down, and only a one run lead, it wouldn’t have bothered me.
        But the game was too important to take the chance.
        And if he’d let Zim stay, and Zim gave the run up, MW would still be crucified as an idiot.
        The real idiocy is any of us pretending we know enough to make better decisions than the man who led a beat up team to 96 wins in his first year, and has to think past the next out.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 22, 2015 at 8:01 PM

        Hear, hear.

  10. stoatva - Jun 22, 2015 at 4:14 PM

    Marquis in 2011:

    Lincecum (L 2-3) had a great outing for the G-Men, lasting 7 innings allowing 7 hits, 3 earned runs, no walks, and 7 strikeouts. Marquis (W 3-0) on the other hand went the distance allowing 5 hits, no runs, no walks, and 7 strikeouts. Timmy threw 111 pitches in his 7 innings of work, while Marquis only used 96 bullets to take down San Francisco.

  11. Theophilus T.S. - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:09 PM

    Scherzer’s chance at immortality (Johnny Vander Meer) rests on the Phillies this weekend. What are the chances?

    • Toot D. Blan - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:45 PM

      Best he can do in Philadelphia this weekend is tie the record. To break it, he’d need yet another no-no in his next start. So the chances of him breaking Vander Meer’s record are virtually zero.

      • Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:52 PM

        The chances of any particular pitcher throwing a no-hitter on a given night are approximately zero anyway. But the chances that someone, someday, will throw three in a row if baseball lasts long enough are pretty much a sure thing. Never tell me the odds.

    • therealjohnc - Jun 22, 2015 at 8:44 PM

      Pete Rose (of all people) had a great line about that. Once he was asked what is the most unbreakable record in baseball. Cy Young’s 511 wins? Dimaggio’s 56 game hitting streak?

      His reply: Johnny Vander Meer. Because to beat that record, someone would have to throw three straight no-hitters – and that’s not going to happen.

  12. Evan Szymkowicz - Jun 22, 2015 at 5:11 PM

    Scott Olsen’s near no-hitter is an honorable mention, as is Gio’s near no-no.

  13. David Proctor - Jun 22, 2015 at 7:15 PM

    Scherzer’s start in Milwaukee was considerably better than the no hitter, imo. But what a luxury that we can debate these things.

  14. Sec 3, My Sofa - Jun 22, 2015 at 9:06 PM

    I can’t believe I and everyone didn’t mention Ross Detwiler and the All-Staffs’ work in Game 4, to set up the single best moment to date in Nats history.

    • adcwonk - Jun 22, 2015 at 10:17 PM

      I actually had been thinking of that — and wondered if it counted since Ross only went 6 innings.

      Another game that ranks up there — not as the best, but one of the most clutch, pitching performances was John Lannan that year (2012). After getting demoted and pitching in the minors all year, he gets called up to halt a slide against the Braves. Nats had lost three straight, including the opening two games of a four-game series against the Braves at home, and their lead dropped from 4.5 to 1.5 games. The Friday night game was that sickening game where the Nats led 9-0 and lost 11-10. Then, the first game of a double header on Saturday, the Nats are shutout 4-0.

      Lannan is called up for the second game — allows two runs in the first, then shuts down the Braves — he goes seven innings — and the Nats win 5-2 and start a 6 game winning streak.





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)...

MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.

*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at Click here for past audio clips.

Follow us on Twitter