With catcher Kurt Suzuki on the shelf with a sore elbow, Yan Gomes was pressed into duty on short notice Sunday and delivered. Gomes put together the kind of game the Nationals expected from him when they acquired him from the Indians in November.
The veteran from Brazil went out and guided Max Scherzer to a win. He also belted two homers in a game for the first time since September 2017 as the Nats finally defeated the Braves 9-4, salvaging the final game of a four-game series.
“It’s just the mentality both of us have right now,” Gomes said of the top Nats catchers. “I was brought up being told that, being a catcher, you got to worry about your pitching staff, getting them through games. Anything you do offensively are pluses, and both of us have tried to get this pitching staff through some games. We come out with the win and no matter what, we did our job. But putting some numbers up offensively, it’s always a plus, for sure.”
Gomes has now hit three homers in his last five games. Suzuki’s MRI came back clean, but he has inflammation in the elbow and is listed as day-to-day. Gomes may have to pick up the slack for a bit. The veteran can handle that part of the job easily. But if his power stroke is back, that would be huge for the offense, too.
“It’s one of those things, man, where you just want to be in a groove and you get some extra playing time.” Gomes said. “We have the manager right here. Hopefully, I can say the right things so he can get me some more playing time.”
Manager Davey Martinez was hovering in the clubhouse after the game while the media was in attendance because he had been tossed from the game. They both laughed after that quip from Gomes.
The Nats now head to Minneapolis and face another very good team in the 88-55 Twins.
“I don’t think we need to get too far ahead of ourselves, I think we put ourselves in a good position,” Gomes said. “We came in here and wanted to gain ground on them. It didn’t happen. We have to move on and we got a whole lot of ball games left, and we obviously our goal is to play past September, so we just have to focus every game now.”
Another element that gives the Nats reason to feel good is that Scherzer looked very good in firing 98 pitches over six innings, allowing just one run on two hits with nine strikeouts.
“We’ve been playing pretty well, things just haven’t gone our way and they’re playing good baseball,” Scherzer said of the Braves. “Lost three games and to come in here and take one, avoid the sweep, that always feels good. At least we’re traveling to Minnesota feeling good about ourselves and hopefully we have a good series against the Twins.”
Scherzer looked strong in his outing and said afterward he could have gone past the sixth frame. That’s the attitude the Nationals need from their ace for the post season. But what about his stuff made him believe he is all the way back? Scherzer pointed to the spin rate on his fastball. He said the pitch felt different Sunday than it did last week.
“Probably for the nerd speak, it’s the spin rate,” Scherzer said. “That’s when I can start really pressing on the fastball and get it to the top part of the zone with life, and for me, there’s just an intensity to the fastball that the first few times out, I didn’t have and where now I do have that intensity. So that’s where once I pick up the location, just that much more I can really start sharpening everything up and get everything better.”
Scherzer is relieved because this is how he wants to feel on the mound. His only regret is that it took almost a month to return to form. But better late than never.
“I’m just frustrated it took this long,” Scherzer said. “Everything that I’ve been kind of wanting to happen a lot quicker than it has been and trying to do everything I can to make it happen. So to go out there today and feel good about it and feel good about where I am with health and make it through the start and pitching where I need to pitch. In my mind, it took too long, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Bench coach Chip Hale took over for Martinez, who got ejected in the fifth inning trying to save Trea Turner from home plate umpire Mike Estabrook. Hale liked what he saw from Scherzer all day, but knew six innings was enough on Sunday.
“He’s back to where he feels like he can throw any pitch at any time and sort of step on that gas pedal when he needs to,” Hale said. “That’s what he keeps telling us. We were going to send him back out until we got the runs to put us farther ahead. It was such a long inning. He had run the bases. We felt at that point that was enough for him. He had enough to go I think 110 (pitches) today. He felt pretty good about himself.”
That is the Scherzer the Nats need for a potential postseason berth. Now he must continue that intensity for the final three weeks of the regular season to get there.