It was unusual to see right-hander Max Scherzer allow a pair of home runs and uncork a wild pitch in Thursday’s start versus the Orioles.
But the fact that matters the most is that the Nationals’ ace gave his club a chance to win the game. And that is exactly what the Nationals did, dropping the Orioles 4-2 and winning the series, thanks to a timely two-run double from rookie sensation Juan Soto in the eighth inning.
“Hey, we won the ballgame,” Scherzer said. “That’s what matters. That’s my job as the starting pitcher: pitch deep in the game, give my team a chance to win. Two solo home runs, turn the page. Move on from it and continue to pitch. With our offense, Soto comes up late, gets a huge RBI double.
“And guys just grind ABs away, put together good ABs against (Kevin) Gausman, made him work. And our ‘pen came in with (Kelvin) Herrera and (Sean) Doolittle and we won the game. That’s what you really focus on.”
For the first time this season, Scherzer surrendered more than one homer in a game. Solo homers by Colby Rasmus and Mark Trumbo paced the Birds offense. But Scherzer walked only one and scattered three other hits over seven innings. He struck out nine.
Scherzer has struck out nine or more batters in five consecutive starts. He has pulled off that feat 13 times out of 16 starts this season and has struck out 21 batters in a pair of starts against the Orioles this season.
Scherzer had pitched seven innings on 102 pitches, 72 for strikes. But the game was tied 2-2, and the competitor in the veteran hurler wanted to find a way to earn the win.
“Yeah, he was good,” said manager Davey Martinez. “Obviously, he wanted to stay in the game, but he said it was my call and I said, ‘Hey, our bullpen’s fresh and I think we’ll pass it over to Herrera and see where were at.’ So he was good with it.”
The wild pitch occurred in the third following a one-out double by Jace Peterson. Catcher Pedro Severino set up in a different place than Scherzer thought he would, resulting in Scherzer’s third wild pitch of the season.
“As soon as I came set, Sevy went to set up (and) I was anticipating the pitch to be away,” Scherzer said. “I won’t say which pitch. But he set up in, and it threw me off. So I got rattled and panicked and was like: All right, just don’t throw it. It was just one of those things that happened. I talked to Sevy. We were on the same page and we understand what happened.”
It borders on ridiculous to dissect a Scherzer start down to a wild pitch and two solo shots. But the facts remain: He threw seven innings, allowed only five hits, one walk and struck out nine. The bottom line: he gave the Nats a very good shot at winning the game with another quality start.
Scherzer now has a major league-leading 161 strikeouts on the season.
Now Scherzer will prepare for his next start in St. Petersburg, Fla., and help right-hander Erick Fedde refine his slider before Saturday’s start.
Plus, he might ask Martinez for another chance at pinch-hitting. Take this example from Martinez of his encounter with Scherzer during the rain-delayed Wednesday match up against the Orioles:
“The other day we are going through the game,” Martinez said. “He knows we have four guys on the bench and in the fifth inning he comes down and I look behind him and he’s sweating. I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I was hitting’. He said, ‘You might need me to pinch-hit.’ I said, ‘OK.’ But that’s the way he is. He thinks that way, you know?
“We almost did put him in to pinch-hit. So but that’s Max. The guy just wants to compete, wants to play. I am sure one day he’s going to ask me to play the field when he’s not pitching.”
And where would he want to play?
“According to him, he’ll play anywhere and be really good at it,” Martinez said.