VIERA, Fla. - Some thoughts, observations and quotes from today’s game, an 8-2 victory by the Nationals over the Cardinals:
* Max Scherzer’s final line (5 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K) looked awfully good, but the right-hander wasn’t totally satisfied with his performance. That’s because he felt like he wasted too many pitches, getting behind in the count and ultimately raising his pitch count too high (he threw 95 in only five innings).
“I wasn’t as efficient,” he said. “When you’re walking three guys, that’s just inexcusable, and I think I fell behind a few guys, as well. Those are things I know I have control over. (I need to) be better at pounding the zone and being in those 1-2 counts, not being a 2-1 count.”
Scherzer felt like this was a particularly important start for him: his penultimate tune-up of the spring before he takes the mound on opening day in Atlanta.
“One more practice, and we’re for real,” the right-hander said. “I know the onus that was on this start to get everything going so I can tinker, so that the next start I need to be in midseason form.”
Scherzer wound up facing a tense jam in the top of the first, when the Cardinals loaded the bases with nobody out. But that jam wasn’t entirely of his doing: Trea Turner was charged with an error when the shortstop couldn’t make a backhanded grab of Kolten Wong’s hard grounder to his right to open the game. Scherzer did walk the next batter and allow a single, but he nearly escaped the whole thing by striking out Jedd Gyorko and Matt Adams in succession. Tommy Pham’s hard liner past a diving Turner spoiled the potential escape act, bringing home two unearned runs.
“He battled,” manager Dusty Baker said. “That’s Scherzer, though. He was getting underneath his breaking ball a little bit. He wasn’t real sharp, but he was sharp enough to get them out. He’s going to have those days, too. He threw a lot of pitches in a short period of time. But he battled. We thought he was going to get out of that inning when he got bases loaded, and then struck out a couple guys and then Pham hit one up the middle. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have given up anything. He threw well enough for us to win. That’s what matters.”
Scherzer also became the first Nationals pitcher to step to the plate this spring. The result wasn’t all that pretty: Facing Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, he grounded out to third in his first at-bat, then struck out looking after not getting a squeeze bunt down his other time up.
“Oh, god,” he said when asked about his offensive exploits. “Trying to figure out how to get rid of my golf swing, coming around the ball. Pitches that are away feel like they’re so far away. You just have no idea where the strike zone is at. It was good to at least face Wainwright, have somebody at least throwing strikes so I didn’t have to worry about getting hit.”
* Scherzer may not have done anything at the plate, but the rest of the Nationals lineup did. They knocked Wainwright out in the fifth inning, then kept hammering away at reliever Seth Maness during a five-run rally.
Michael A. Taylor was yet again the star, with a two-run homer and a two-run double, but there was plenty of offense to go around. Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon hit back-to-back, run-scoring doubles just before Taylor’s homer. And Bryce Harper ignited the whole rally with some hustle on the bases.
Harper, who had kind of coasted into second base on a first-inning double that perhaps could have been stretched to a triple after Pham bobbled the ball in center field, legged out an infield single in the bottom of the fifth. He then aggressively went first to third on Ryan Zimmerman’s single to shallow center, his helmet flying off his head mid-stride in classic Harper fashion.
“All I can say is: That’s how the game was intended to be played,” Baker said. “You don’t get the MVP cause you can’t do those things. We expect them all to do that kind of stuff. I mean, we’ve been running the bases pretty good. We’ve been thrown out sometimes. But hey, if you don’t ever try, you’ll never get thrown out. We’re going to try to take it to the opposition vs. them trying to take it to us.”
* Shawn Kelley made his first appearance out of the bullpen in a week and put himself in a ninth-inning jam, surrendering a single and two walks while trying to protect a six-run lead. The veteran reliever, who may open the season as the Nationals’ primary setup man, got out of the jam unscathed, but he’s still trying to find his groove before camp ends.
Kelley has put 11 men on base in 5 1/3 innings so far in Grapefruit League play.
“You ask him, he’s probably not satisfied with where he’s at right now,” Baker said. “I can tell the look on his face. He wants to do so well for this club. But like I said: How many guys do you leave spring training with who really have their act together?”