After allowing three runs in the first three innings Sunday, right-hander Max Scherzer prevented the Pirates from scoring again under his watch. Pittsburgh went five innings without scoring another run because Scherzer switched up his sequencing, focusing more on employing his curveball, thanks to suggestions from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and catcher Yan Gomes.
“I think it was more when I kind of sat there with Yan and Lilly and thought we just needed to start throwing more curveballs,” Scherzer said. “We needed to slow them down. They had a good approach of going out there and being aggressive early in the counts. That’s where we ... were on the same page: ‘Hey let’s start incorporating the curveball.’ And I was able to start throwing some good curveballs to help keep the mix on. It helped me to sequence a little bit better and steal some strikes.
“Any time you’re pounding the zone early with first-pitch strikes, it allows you to always beat counts and be driving pitches where you want them. Yan and I got into a good rhythm.”
The Nationals defense was also able to take runs off the board. Michael A. Taylor made a great throw from center field to Gomes to nab Josh Bell at the plate for an out that saved a run. Anthony Rendon also prevented an extra-base hit with a superb play at third base.
“(We) got great defense,” Scherzer said. “Mikey made a great throw to keep it a three-run ballgame there. You know that was a big play, and Rendon made that huge diving play when the game was right there on the line. I didn’t make that good of a pitch to (Starling) Marte there, and he was able to blast it, and Rendon made a great diving play that kept that game 3-3.”
Scherzer was asked about the extra day off and he said that didn’t affect his pitching. But one thing he did notice was that because he was nursing a sore leg for a few days, he could not do his normal running. Scherzer had taken a comebacker of the leg in his last start.
“It’s just something you’ve got to go out there and pitch and just play through it,” Scherzer said. “Nothing was really bothering it. So just going out there, mentally you’re 100 percent. You’re just pitching through everything. It doesn’t matter at that point.
“My routine was just thrown off because I couldn’t run. I didn’t get any running in between starts. If anything, it was more of the bigger issue than anything.”
* Taylor made some good plays in the outfield and also had some solid at-bats Sunday in the 4-3 loss to the Pirates. The start was his first of the season. Taylor went 1-for-3 with a walk and one strikeout. Nationals manager Davey Martinez said Taylor worked in spring training to quiet down his approach and swing.
“He worked all winter, came into spring training without a leg kick, hands in a better position, and we loved where he was at,” Martinez said. “He had a really good spring training until he got hurt. We’re hoping that he continues, and he had some really good at-bats in rehab so we want him to continue to do those things.”
Martinez gave Taylor the start so he could get multiple at-bats, but the skipper also knows in the bigger picture he will need everyone on the bench to be ready to play and hit.
“I’m going to try to use all our guys, and I need to get him in there. He definitely needs at-bats. What I saw in spring training, he made an adjustment and shortened his swing up quite a bit. Hopefully, he continues to do that and takes it into the game.
“The biggest thing with Mike is to put the ball in play, because he can do so many other things: steal bases, run the bases well. For me, the key is to allow him to go play and do the little things. If we ask him to bunt for a hit, bunt for a hit. If we ask him to sacrifice bunt, you know, just work good at-bats.”