ATLANTA - Max Scherzer pushed himself into the seventh inning against the Braves with his pitch count up over 110 once again. And this time, the Nationals ace walked away with a win for his extra effort.
Six days after he fell apart while trying to build up his pitch count against Atlanta, Scherzer retired the side in the seventh, walking off the mound having thrown 112 pitches and having helped lead his team to a 4-2 victory at SunTrust Park.
“This is the type of start you do hang your hat on,” the right-hander said. “You sit there and look at the last 15 pitches, that helped extend ... and still being able to execute in the seventh inning. That’s something that I need to do.”
Ryan Zimmerman’s three hits and two RBIs (giving him 101 on the season) and Trea Turner’s two hits and two stolen bases (giving him a club record 42 on the season) carried the Nationals lineup on a night when Daniel Murphy was a late scratch with a tight hamstring.
But the story of this one, as it was the last time he took the mound, was Scherzer, who is determined to position himself as best he can for the postseason and took another step in that direction tonight.
Scherzer cruised early, retiring the Braves’ first 11 batters in order and conjuring up images of yet another run at something historic.
“After the first two batters, I thought he was going to throw a no-hitter,” Turner said. “I don’t know if that’s stupid to say. But I really in my mind was like: ‘He might do it again.’ “
Alas, Scherzer allowed a bloop single to Freddie Freeman with two outs in the fourth, and proceeded to labor after that. Five of Atlanta’s next six batters reached base, two of them scoring, as the righty had to start working harder and sweat right through his gray jersey on a muggy night in the South.
Decision time, though, came in a familiar spot: After six innings and 97 pitches. Six nights ago, Scherzer was at exactly the same point against the same opponent when he told Dusty Baker he wanted to stay on the mound and push himself in what he deemed an important postseason preparation start.
That outing ended in less-than-ideal fashion, with Scherzer walking three straight batters, serving up a two-run single and ultimately getting charged with five runs against him without recording an out in the seventh. This one ended in far better fashion for the right-hander.
Scherzer retired the side in the seventh, pumping his fastball up to a game-best 96 mph, and walked off the mound having thrown 112 pitches to cap a strong night on the mound.
“That’s why we took him to the max the last time, so he would get prepared for this,” Baker said. “He was strong. Usually Max finishes strong. Usually his last 10 pitches, he’s all-out. And that’s what he was today.”
And by virtue of his seven strikeouts, Scherzer reached the 250 mark for the fourth consecutive season, a feat previously done by only three other big league pitchers, all of them Hall of Famers: Ferguson Jenkins, Pedro Martínez and Randy Johnson.
“Man, he’s in some great company,” Baker said. “Whoo-ee. And he has some more time left.”
Said Scherzer: “I’ve been durable, making 30-plus starts every single year. That’s how you achieve something like that. I credit that more to durability than anything.”
Scherzer pitched with a lead most of this night thanks to a few well-timed hits by his teammates to take advantage of a few of the many scoring opportunities they had.
Zimmerman once again played a big role, with RBI singles in both the third and fifth innings (in addition to his second-inning double). That leaves the veteran with 101 RBIs on the season, nine shy of the club record he established back in 2006 as a rookie. He also ensured only the fifth 30-homer, 100-RBI season in Nats history, matching his feat from 2009 and the feats of former teammates Adam Dunn (2009-10) and Adam LaRoche (2012).
Turner also played a big role at the plate and on the bases, singling home a run in the third, later scoring himself, then doubling to lead off the seventh before stealing third and scoring again. That stolen base, was Turner’s 41st of the season, tying Alfonso Soriano’s club record from 2006.
And he wasn’t done. Turner walked to lead off the ninth and promptly swiped second base without drawing a throw for his new club-record 42nd steal of the season, a feat he achieved in only 88 games played due to injury.
“We’ve got some guys having good years,” Baker said. “That’s especially nice when you win and those guys reach those milestones.”