This didn’t go down as one of Max Scherzer’s better starts as a National, and it won’t likely be included in any video montages of his 2016 season. But there’s something to be said for churning out six innings on a night when you didn’t have your best stuff. Especially when doing just that ultimately put your team in position to emerge victorious.
“I thought Max did a great job tonight,” second baseman Daniel Murphy said following last night’s 6-4 win over the Braves. “I’m sure he said he wasn’t as sharp as he expects to be, but he went six innings when I think early on it didn’t look like that. I thought he did a great job to give us a chance to win that ballgame.”
Scherzer put the Nationals behind the 8-ball from the outset, serving up a two-run double to A.J. Pierzynski in the top of the first. And then even after his teammates picked him up by scoring three runs in the bottom of the inning, Scherzer again left them trailing after surrendering a two-run double to Nick Markakis in the top of the second.
His pitch count already at 46 after only two frames, Scherzer realized his objective for the evening needed to change.
“It’s just: Go down and dig deep and find any way you can get into the seventh inning,” the right-hander said. “You understand the pitch count is up, with some unnecessary walks that I had tonight. Just find ways to get outs. Just keep battling and just knowing that they’ll come through for you. As long as you keep going out there grinding and throwing up zeros, good things will happen.”
So it was that Scherzer bounced back from those two shaky innings to toss four scoreless frames the rest of the way on a total of 54 pitches. He retired 12 of the last 14 batters he faced, letting only one reach scoring position.
“I always say that you can usually judge your outing on the last 15 pitches you throw,” Scherzer said. “Those are typically your most important pitches. And tonight, in the sixth inning and with the last 15 pitches, I was able to get a clean inning.”
It was the kind of performance that earned his manager’s praise, no matter how many runs wound up charged to him.
“This guy has as much determination and competitive drive of any guy I’ve seen in a long time,” Dusty Baker said. “He really wants to win, wants to win badly. I just came from the clubhouse, and he’s one of the happiest guys I’ve seen in a long time today. You know the guys enjoy playing behind him because they know he’s giving it all he has. It’s great to play behind a guy like that. And I think it can rub off on some of the other, younger pitchers as well. He’s our No. 1.”