Max Scherzer wanted to get off to a good start on opening night, but it just didn’t happen.
Against a strong Yankees lineup, Scherzer did his best to avoid trouble, but when you have to face the likes of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton multiple times in a game, trouble can find you.
Scherzer allowed a two-run homer and a run-scoring single to Stanton, and Judge delivered a single and an RBI double as the Yankees took down the Nationals 4-1 in rain-shortened five innings to finally jumpstart the 2020 season.
The rain delay lasted 1 hour, 58 minutes before the game was officially called in the top of the sixth.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” manager Davey Martinez said of Scherzer when he met with the media via Zoom. “I think he made one or two mistakes that cost him. He wanted to go in on Stanton and left it over the plate. But I thought he threw the ball really well. He was coming out, throwing in the mid-90s mph, pretty good.”
The rain delay stopped the game at 8:52 p.m. and the storm was filled with several loud claps of thunder and flashes of lightning. Prior to that display, the Yankees bats made all the noise they needed against Scherzer early, scoring two in the first, one in the third and one more in the fifth. The right-hander finished with 99 pitches, but battled out of jams by using his slider. Even with the four runs allowed, Scherzer struck out 11 batters, walking four.
“Honestly, I thought my off-speed stuff was good and it was sharp,” Scherzer said during a Zoom video call. “I thought I had throwaway pitches. Unfortunately, my fastball location, I was kind of in a crossfire. Every time I tried to throw arm side, it was going glove side. Glove side, (it was going) arm side. So I didn’t pitch quite as efficiently. It created some mistakes where I wasn’t locating as well as I could have. But sometimes that’s going to happen. Just try to make the fix and move on to the next start.”
Martinez understood how badly Scherzer wanted to get to this game and when the day finally arrived, the first inning did not start out the way he had hoped. But the right-hander still never allowed the Yankees to have a runaway inning.
“Max has a plan in every game,” Martinez said. “He studies hitters. He waited a long time to get this opener, as we all did. Little fired up, little antsy, but he settled down and started pitching really well.”
In the fifth, with the Nats down 3-1, the Yankees loaded the bases with two away on a walk to Gleyber Torres. Stanton then connected on a single on a line drive to right fielder Adam Eaton that scored Gio Urshela to make it 4-1. Scherzer struck out Brett Gardner to end the inning with the bases loaded.
“Just made better pitches,” Scherzer said. “I got hit a little bit there early, but was able to execute some other pitches as well so as much as I can beat myself up over tonight, there’s also some good things that came out of today that I’m happy with. Sometimes you just got to take your lickings to understand you are better in the long run.”
It was a tough loss on a gloomy evening and certainly not what Scherzer was hoping to accomplish on opening night for the defending World Series champions. Still, the veteran reasoned, this is better than the alternative. At least he is given the opportunity to go out and compete.
“This one’s a little different,” Scherzer said, recalling another opening day start. “So much work has had to be put into this to make this one happen. “So I think this one signifies more of what’s go on in the game and what’s going on in our country to be able to put this season on. All the hard work from everybody involved to be able to get testing, protocols, to having players buy in and know that we are trying to do this literally as safe as possible. Going out there and just following the protocols.
“Everybody is doing the best that they can and we are going to have a season. It’s better than no season. I’d rather be playing baseball than not playing baseball at all. To me, I can go out there and compete and have a smile on my face.”
And this day did not start off well for his club either, with the news that star outfielder Juan Soto tested positive for COVID-19, but is asymptomatic. Scherzer was disappointed to hear the news and wishes the best for Soto and a speedy recovery.
“It’s concerning that happened because from what we’ve heard from him: that he was just going home and coming to the field,” Scherzer said. “He really wasn’t doing anything to put himself in a position to do that. It just shows you how it can happen to anybody. And why we have to follow the protocols as well as we do because we can’t control someone actually contracting it.
“Our biggest concern is preventing the spread and hopefully we are following the protocols enough to prevent any type of spread on our team. That, to me, is what we have to be concerned about.”