Scherzer carves up Rays in 4-2 victory for Nats (updated)

He spent Saturday coming off the bench in the 14th inning in Atlanta to deliver a pinch-hit single and then score the game-winning run from first base. He spent Monday donning a Capitals jersey, helmet, gloves and stick along with Ryan Zimmerman and getting the crowd at Capital One Arena fired up for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.

And Max Scherzer loved every minute of it. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, he does everything full-tilt, giving nothing less than his full effort no matter the activity.

So when he arose this morning and pondered both what he had experienced over the previous couple of days and what he was going to set out to do this evening, Scherzer needed no extra motivation.

“The energy from Game 4 ... I swear I woke up this morning with an extra bounce in my step,” he said. “The way the Caps played, the fans, the energy at that stadium, everyone here in D.C. ... how could you not wake up with an extra bounce in your step? I was itching to get out to the field and play. Good things happen when the whole city gets behind you.”

And good things happen when Scherzer pitches. Which, lest anyone forget, is what he really gets paid $210 million to do.

He did it tonight about as well as he has in any of his previous 110 starts for the Nationals. With precision, power and efficiency, Scherzer carved up the Rays lineup, carrying a shutout into the eighth inning before finally succumbing and allowing two runs. The Nats, who had opened up a four-run lead early, still went on to win 4-2 behind a scoreless ninth from Sean Doolittle.

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Scherzer wound up with 13 strikeouts over eight sparkling innings, throwing an astonishing 81-of-99 pitches for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 25-of-28 batters. He struck out 13 or more without issuing a walk for the third time in his career, a feat only six pitchers in history have done more times.

“It’s hard to compare him to anybody, really,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I’m around him every day. From the other side, you see him and you say: ‘Wow, every fifth day, he’s really good.’ But to see him every day, he’s the best. He really is.”

There was some thought before tonight’s game that Wilson Ramos’ presence in the Rays’ lineup might somehow help his team’s chances against Scherzer. The two had been batterymates, after all, for two no-hitters in 2015, plus a 20-strikeout game in 2016. Would Ramos’ intimate knowledge of Scherzer’s stuff and approach make any difference?

In a word ... no. It doesn’t matter much what the opposing hitters know some nights Scherzer takes the mound. He’s just that good. And tonight was one of those nights.

The ace set the tone from the get-go, striking out the evening’s first two batters and needing only 10 pitches to complete a 1-2-3 top of the first. He maintained that pace throughout, never needing more than 13 pitches to complete an inning until the eighth and needing only nine to strike out the side in the sixth.

That, of course, goes in the books as an “immaculate inning,” and it’s only the third one of those in Nationals history. Scherzer, naturally, had previously done it once himself (May 14, 2017 vs. the Phillies). Jordan Zimmermann also did it once (May 6, 2011 vs. the Marlins).

“I honestly didn’t know it happened,” Scherzer said. “Then I walked off the field and I was like: ‘Wait a second, I think that was it.’ So yeah, that’s cool. But again, that’s just knowing their hitters even though I haven’t faced them too much, knowing what I wanted to do and executing pitches.”

Scherzer may shrug off the achievement, but let’s take a moment to appreciate what we just witnessed. Only five pitchers in major league history have been known to throw two immaculate innings in their careers: Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and now Scherzer.

The first four guys already reside in Cooperstown. The fifth’s case continues to move closer to air-tight with each passing accomplishment.

“I love that guy,” catcher Pedro Severino said. “He’s always working hard and always has something in mind he wants to do in the game.”

Said first baseman Matt Adams: “He’s a special dude, that’s for sure.”

Adams provided Scherzer with all the run support he’d need tonight, even though his teammates added more later. Returning to the lineup after fouling a ball off his right foot Saturday in Atlanta, Adams belted a 3-2 pitch from Nathan Eovaldi into the second deck in right field to lead off the bottom of the second and put the home team on top.

Singles by Juan Soto and Michael A. Taylor set the stage for another run, which Soto then scored by scampering home on Wilmer Difo’s chopper to first, eluding Ramos’ tag to make it 2-0. Soto and Difo produced two more runs in the bottom of the fourth, with the former scoring from first base on Difo’s second RBI triple in three days, and the latter then scoring on a wild pitch to make it 4-0.

Scherzer may have finally hit a bump in the road in the eighth, allowing three hits, the last of which drove in two runs. That “raised” his ERA to 1.95, but it didn’t prevent him from emerging with his league-leading 10th win.

It’s all just another day in the life of the best pitcher on the planet. And it’s a good life right now for him.

“We’re getting locked in,” Scherzer said. “We’re getting into midseason form. As the calendar turns to June, we feel good. So let’s just keep going and grind it out.”

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