Scherzer executes curveball and changeup to perfection in 6-1 win

Nationals starter Max Scherzer commanded his fastball well, mixing in an improved curveball and changeup for seven shutout innings in a 6-1 victory over the first-place Rays at Nationals Park.

"I always want to get through seven innings," Scherzer said during his postgame Zoom video session with reporters. "If I can get out there and get deep into a game, seven innings, it allows our bullpen guys to only have to try to get six outs. That's always a huge goal of mine, to get deep into a ball game."

But Scherzer had a bit of trouble getting quick outs early on as he racked up 40 pitches in the first two frames.

He allowed singles to Brandon Lowe and Joey Wendle in the first inning. With one out in the second, the Rays added a double to center field by Kevin Kiermaier and Scherzer walked Nate Lowe.

Each time, he got out of the innings with big strikeouts of Willy Adames and Kevan Smith.

After 40 pitches in the first two innings, Scherzer needed only 11 pitches to finish the third. He had to fire only 33 pitches in his final three frames.

"He just needed to settle down," said manager Davey Martinez of Scherzer's high early pitch count. "He was good. After the second inning, he started pumping strikes, getting ahead of hitters, utilizing all his pitches. I thought his curveball was really good today, changeup was good. His fastball was good and locating really well. That's the Max that we know right there. Needed that today."

In the third and fourth, Scherzer allowed one-out singles, but then battled to get out of the innings quickly. In the third, he induced a pair of foul popups caught by Carter Kieboom. In the fourth, another called third strike on Smith on a 95 mph fastball ended the frame.

Scherzer-Throws-Blue-Home-Side-Sidebar.jpgScherzer said his fastball command was solid, but everything really was locked in thanks to effectiveness of his curveball and changeup. He believes this came from a renewed focus on those two pitches this week in his bullpen sessions.

"During this past turn, I've been reflective on how I'm pitching," Scherzer said. "I just didn't think my curveball and changeup has been executed as well as I could have. I feel like my changeup has been kind of flat, hasn't been getting swings and misses as it usually does.

"So in the bullpen, I really worked on trying to mechanically deliver that one right. I felt like tonight I was finally able to start throwing some depth changeups and that really helped me out. And the curveball, I was able to get some more plate with it and be able to get underneath the zone to be able to get some swings and misses.

"When I'm able to execute those two pitches, especially when they got seven lefties in their lineup, (it) allows the fastball cutter to play up even more."

In the fifth and sixth innings, Scherzer got into a smooth rhythm, retiring six in a row.

His final inning was impressive. Scherzer allowed a two-out double to Smith, but struck out Nate Lowe looking and Meadows swinging to end the inning.

"Really, that's when (Kurt) Suzuki and I, we are able to get in rhythm and stay in rhythm and just keep sequencing," Scherzer said of the final three innings. "I have so much trust in what he can do behind the plate and calling pitches for me. That's when it gets fun and we can sequence and execute."

Suzuki said: "His stuff has been really good this year. Last game against Phillies, some broken-bat hits score some runs, and a good piece of hitting scores another homer, but honestly his stuff is there. Tonight, just executed pitches and kept guys off balance and did a great job for us."

Scherzer improved his record to 4-2, finishing seven shutout innings, allowing six hits with only one walk and striking out eight. He threw 104 pitches, 70 for strikes.

The other key statistic the Nats ace always monitors from the box score?

Free passes.

Scherzer came into Monday's start averaging 3.3 walks per nine innings, his worst mark in that category in 10 seasons. In Monday's win, he walked one batter.

"I have been kind of kicking myself because I have been walking a lot of guys as of late this year," Scherzer said. "But to go out there and go seven innings and only give up one walk, that's kind of a product. If you don't walk guys you are going to be forcing their hand. And if you can pitch with five (different pitches), that makes it even better."

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