Scherzer allowed only three runs on seven hits, struck out seven with one walk. He fired 98 pitches, 71 for strikes in finishing eight innings.
Pittsburgh’s Josh Bell continued a big series, going 2-for-3 with two doubles, three runs and two RBIs. He is batting .378 over the last 10 games.
It was Martin’s ground-rule double off of Nats reliever Wander Suero that scored Bell in the ninth for the go-ahead run. The hard-fought single by Martin came on a 1-2 curveball. This came after Suero had battled to within a strike of getting out of the inning.
Manager Davey Martinez thought Suero might go with another pitch in that at-bat. But Suero had thrown Martin three consecutive cutters.
“I thought he would throw him another cutter or a changeup,” Martinez said. “His curveball is his fourth-best pitch, so ...”
Suero felt confident he would be able to get Martin with the curveball, but it did not quite locate where he wanted it to go.
“My catcher calls for the pitch after we had made a couple of pitches with the inside cutter, fastball,” Suero said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I thought it was a good pitch to throw as well and when he called it, I threw it.
“I was trying to locate it a little differently. I was trying to get it on the dirt for him to chase it. Unfortunately, I hung it just a little bit and he made good contact.”
It was the second game in a row that Martinez went with Suero. It was obvious, with Scherzer finishing eight innings and Suero getting the ninth on Sunday, that Sean Doolittle was unavailable. Martinez decided to go to Suero in hopes that the 27-year-old right-hander could become another go-to bullpen arm in high-leverage situations. Besides Doolittle, the bullpen has struggled early on this season to finish games.
“We got to see what we got,” Martinez said. “Right now, at this point, we had no Doo today and (Suero’s) been pitching well and getting both righty and lefty out. He got some big outs, and like I said, he just couldn’t finish that last pitch.”
Rewind to the beginning of the frame and it looked like Suero would be able to roll through after getting ahead of the dangerous Bell 0-2. But then he threw four consecutive balls and lost him for the walk to lead off the ninth.
“He had 0-2 to 4-2, and then he had 0-2 on Martin and just couldn’t bury the last pitch,” Martinez said. “But he’s been pitching well. ... He had the hot hand and I felt like he could get lefties and righties out.”
Suero (1-1) thought a pitch or two in that leadoff at-bat against Bell could have gone his way, but he didn’t get the calls from home plate umpire Kerwin Danley.
“I was trying to locate pitches in the zone,” Suero said. “I wasn’t purposely trying to throw him out of the zone. There’s a couple of close pitches, especially that outside pitch that I naturally throw a cutter that runs into the plate, and I was thinking I was going to get that one, but the umpire did give me those pitches. There’s nothing I can do.”
The Nationals battled back from early 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to tie the game 3-3 through three frames. Then Scherzer and Pirates starter Jameson Taillon locked in a battle and both teams could not score until the Pirates broke through in the ninth.
Anthony Rendon connected for a single in the sixth to push his career-high hitting streak to 12 games. Howie Kendrick had an RBI double for the Nats and Rendon provided an RBI groundout. Juan Soto delivered a run-scoring single.
Down 4-3 in the bottom of ninth the Nationals again tried for the dramatic comeback win and they got very close to pulling it off. Facing a second inning from Pirates (and former Nats) reliever Felipe Vázquez (1-0), pinch-hitter Victor Robles singled. With one out, Michael A. Taylor walked and Adam Eaton then laid down a beautiful bunt toward the third base line for a hit and the bases were loaded.
But Vázquez got Kendrick with a 98 mph fastball for a called third strike and Rendon lofted a fly ball to center field to end the game.
“We battled back, right?” Martinez said. “The first inning, Anthony turns a double play on that ball 10 out of 10 times; he didn’t today, so we go down two runs. Here we go. We battled back. We’re down 3-2, we battled back, and then we had our chance bases loaded with one out in the ninth there, so that’s tough. You got Howie up, and you got Rendon up. Both had good at-bats, we just couldn’t get it done.”
That left Scherzer finishing eight innings on 98 pitches with just three early runs allowed, coming away with a no-decision. The key early for the Bucs were RBI doubles by Bell followed by singles from Colin Moran in the first and third innings, respectively, staking them to a 3-1 lead.
“Bell did a good job of two strikes, fighting off a fast ball,” Scherzer said. “He’s able to pull it. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat. After he swung and missed at two of them, he battled and was able to get to it. And Moran, he was able to get a change up and just got it through the hole. So you don’t necessarily beat yourself up over the first two at-bats.”
But then in the third, the Pirates generated another run on two hits, again thanks to Bell and Moran. Scherzer said the duo made slight adjustments in the box and good contact to push the base hits through.
“The second two at-bats, those two, I threw a cutter in that didn’t get in quite enough,” Scherzer said. “(Bell is) standing off the plate and kind of moves the plate away from him a little bit, so in order for me to execute that pitch it needs to be just another two inches in. If it’s two inches more in, he’s going to hook it foul.
“Instead, I left it on the corner and he’s able to keep it fair. That’s just a little mental thing I have to be aware of. With Moran, he just caught a fastball low and ran up a little bit. He was just able to get good wood to it. That’s just execution.”
Scherzer did his job and Suero just made a couple of pitches that did not go quite where he wanted them to go. The Nats (7-7) are left back at .500 with the Giants arriving Tuesday.