ST. LOUIS - Max Scherzer looks like his old self so far today. And that must be bringing some semblance of relief to any Nationals fan who might have started worrying about their previously struggling ace.
Scherzer mowed through the Cardinals lineup in his first crack this afternoon, striking out four and displaying much better command than he did in his last two troublesome starts.
Pitching in his hometown, Scherzer took the mound sporting an uncharacteristic 4.35 ERA that was far and away the highest mark in the Nationals rotation. But once he got through a scoreless first inning, everyone with the Nats was able to breathe easier.
Scherzer had allowed eight first-inning runs already this season, more than one-half of his entire run total in 2016.
With that bugaboo behind him, the right-hander was able to bear down on the Cardinals lineup. He struck out five batters in a stretch of seven, a couple of them on 96-97 mph fastballs.
St. Louis' Carlos Martinez has been just as effective so far, cruising through four scoreless innings to get his day started. The slender right-hander known affectionately as "Little Pedro" has had electric stuff early on, striking out five batters through his first three innings.
Included among the victims is Bryce Harper, who has struck out in each of his first two at-bats. After the second one, Harper chirped at plate umpire Doug Eddings for his call on a breaking ball that appeared to be beyond the outside corner.
Harper finds himself stuck in his first slump of the young season. He has just one hit in his last 15 at-bats, leaving his batting average at a pedestrian .278.
Update: We've got ourselves a humdinger of a pitchers' duel today, folks. We're through five innings, and neither Scherzer nor Martinez has let up. Each has put up five zeroes. Scherzer has allowed three singles. Martinez has allowed one hit (to Scherzer, of all people). Neither has walked a batter. Scherzer has seven strikeouts to Martinez's six.
Update II: This game is scoreless no more. The Nats broke through in the top of the sixth, and they did so via a single by Jose Lobaton, a sacrifice bunt by Scherzer and an RBI single by Matt den Dekker. Just like they drew it up, right? It's 1-0 as this game moves to the seventh, Scherzer still dealing on the mound.
Update III: Whoa, it's now 4-0 Nats in the seventh after back-to-back homers by Clint Robinson and Danny Espinosa. That's right. Robinson (who had been 1-for-21 this season) and Espinosa (who had been hitting .185) hit back-to-back homers off Martinez. Back-to-back pitches, actually. What a turn of events here.
Update IV: Make it 5-0 after doubles by Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy in the top of the eighth. Bryce Harper has struck out four times (the first time he's done that since his rookie season) but his teammates have more than picked up the slack. Scherzer, meanwhile, is done after seven dominant innings. Felipe Rivero has taken over for the bottom of the eighth.
Update V: That's a final. Nats win 6-1 after Chris Heisey added a pinch-hit homer in the top of the ninth and Brandon Moss followed suit in the bottom of the inning. They have swept a series in St. Louis for the first time, and they have kicked off this difficult road trip in dramatic fashion.
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