Nationals grind out 2-0 opening day win in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI - The day began with Davey Martinez answering questions about his unconventional lineup decisions. The day ended with the Nationals’ new manager needing no explanation for sticking with the conventional bullpen order that closed out his team’s 2-0 victory over the Reds and made Max Scherzer a winner on opening day for the first time in three career tries.

Scherzer dominated for six innings, striking out 10 with only one walk issued, putting himself in line for the win after he took a loss on opening day in 2015 and a no-decision in 2016. And thanks to one early run and one late run provided by the Nationals lineup, Martinez had it easy in summoning his top three relievers to finish off victory No. 1 in this highly anticipated season.

Brandon Kintzler and Ryan Madson posted zeros in the seventh and eighth innings, when the Nats still clung to a 1-0 lead. Sean Doolittle then took the mound for the ninth, moments after his teammates plated an insurance run and closed out his first save of the year.

Everything went about as close to script as Martinez could have asked for in his managerial debut. His team never trailed, and it led only minutes into the season.

Adam Eaton’s season-opening single (in his first big league game since tearing his ACL nearly 11 months ago) set the table. Eaton’s astute baserunning going first-to-third on Bryce Harper’s single to center was no less significant. And though Ryan Zimmerman’s grounder to third seemed tailor-made for an inning-ending double play, Bryce Harper’s hard slide into second base led to a bounced throw by Scooter Gennett and ultimately allowed the run to score.

The Nationals gave themselves several more chances to score the rest of the way, but they couldn’t convert against Homer Bailey, who kept pitching his way out of trouble. Zimmerman lined out to right with two on and two out in the third. He and Howie Kendrick then struck out in succession with two on the sixth, an inning that ended with the bases loaded and Michael A. Taylor launching a ball to deep left-center that was somehow caught by Jesse Winker despite a nasty collision with Billy Hamilton.

max-scherzer-gray-sidebar.jpgIt was up to Scherzer to make that 1-0 lead hold up, and the ace fulfilled his duty and did just that. He dominated the Reds the first time-plus through the order, striking out eight of the first 11 batters he faced. Cincinnati started making him work after that, but Scherzer came through with a strikeout of Tucker Barnhart in the fourth, a deep flyout from Eugenio Suárez in the fifth and a popup to short by Barnhart in the sixth.

His pitch count at 100, Scherzer was done for the day, leaving Martinez to entrust the final three innings to the back end of his bullpen. The formula worked through the entire second half of the 2017 season. One game into the 2018 season, it continues to work.

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