Nats adjust to pitch clock to beat Scherzer, Mets

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – A lot was made this week of Max Scherzer’s use of the pitch clock when he started against a Nationals split squad on Sunday here at Clover Park.

While manipulating the pitch clock by coming set early and then either throwing very quickly or holding onto the ball until the very last second, Scherzer struck out five Nationals and only gave up three hits and one run in two innings.

Today, however, the Nats were ready for it. And along with help from some poor Mets defense, the guys in red were able to tag the former Nationals ace back en route to an 11-6 win in front of 5,441 fans in Port St. Lucie.

“We had a plan,” manager Davey Martinez said of facing Scherzer the second time this week. “We talked to the players. We taught them how to kind of work the clock. He can't quick-pitch you. If he does and you're not engaged, it should be called a balk, like you saw what happened. But you gotta understand what the clock is for. … I think they learned today how much time they really have.”

Scherzer had perfect first and second innings on just 21 pitches. It seemed like he was about to repeat his Sunday result with fewer strikeouts.

But in the third inning, the Nationals sent 13 batters to the plate, nine against Scherzer, and put up eight runs, seven unearned, charged to the Mets starter.

Ildemaro Vargas led off with a single to third base and then advanced to second on a balk by Scherzer, who had quick-pitched Riley Adams. He and Mets manager Buck Showalter protested to no avail. Victor Robles then reached first and Vargas moved to third on a fielding error by shortstop Luis Guillorme. Two batters later, CJ Abrams grounded out to first baseman Pete Alonso to advance both runners and give the Nats a 1-0 lead.

An Alex Call single scored Robles and set up Luis García’s two-run homer on a first-pitch, 93-mph four-seam fastball from Scherzer to break the game open at 4-0.

“I'm a high-ball hitter,” García said in English on his own. “He threw me the fastball up. I see it coming, a good pitch. See the ball and swing hard. That's it.”

After Joey Meneses reached on another error by Guillorme, Nationals batters recorded four hits in a row, three for extra bases, to make it 8-0 before the inning finally ended.

“The biggest thing when you face a pitcher like Max, or any pitcher really, it's about putting the ball in play, creating havoc, letting the other team make the play,” Martinez said. “I thought that's what we did really well today as a whole. We've moved the baseball. We put the ball in play. We got some big hits. That's who we are. That's how we got to play the game.”

García would continue his strong day in the fourth and sixth innings. After drawing a walk in the fourth (his first of the spring), he went first to third on Meneses' single to right and scored on a ground ball by Jeimer Candelario, who beat the potential double-play throw to first. Two innings later, García drove in a run with an RBI single to right.

“I have a walk today. So that's cool,” García said excitedly. “That's good on me. I think it's good for me. More focused on the play and stayed middle to the other way. And I think that's a good point for me for this year.”

Yasel Antuna launched a ball over the right-center field wall in the ninth for the Nats’ final run of the day.

On the mound for the Nationals, Trevor Williams was efficient once again in another two innings of work, this time against his former team. Although the original plan was for him to throw 35-40 pitches, the lengthy top of the third proved to be too long for him in between up-downs. So he and the Nats decided to call it a day after throwing 23 pitches, 20 strikes, and striking out two with only one hit allowed.

“I think we're exactly where we need to be at this point in spring,” Williams said. “We were gonna go out there for another one, but that inning just went longer, so it was just best at this point in the spring to not push it. We're on track. This was No. 2. I think I have five left still, so I think we're on track to be where we're at by the time the season starts.”

Williams will be on a normal five-day schedule and is looking to go three innings and about 40-50 pitches in his next start.

Out of the bullpen Joan Adon had mixed results in his second appearance of spring training. He served up a two-run home run to José Peraza on an 80.9 mph curveball low in the zone in the third inning, but bounced right back for a perfect fourth.

Carl Edwards Jr. suffered his first rough outing after pitching a perfect frame on Tuesday in West Palm Beach. He was charged with four runs on three hits and two walks while only recording one strikeout and one out in the fifth.

At first glance, it could have been chalked up to just a poor spring training outing. But his manager thought more of it.

“Honestly, I'm just a little bit concerned,” Martinez said. “Velo's down, everything was way below what he normally does. I know it's early in the spring, but the conversation I'll have with him tomorrow, make sure he's OK. But his velo is down. So we'll see what's going on with him.”

Edwards’ fastball was sitting in the low 90s and topped out at only 94 mph.

Victor Arano, Kyle Finnegan, Jake Irvin (two) and minor leaguer Jesús Liranzo all pitched scoreless frames to close out the win.

* Martinez still had no word on Derek Hill’s MRI and said he’s starting to get anxious to get the results. He’s now hoping they’ll have an update on the outfielder’s hamstring tomorrow.

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