WASHINGTON (AP) — Max Scherzer’s fifth big league shutout was all well and good, of course. His 10 strikeouts and zero walks Monday were terrific, too.
The most memorable part of the night for the two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner as he led the Nationals past the Atlanta Braves 2-0 to end Washington’s five-game losing skid and get the team back to .500? His first stolen base since high school.
“Finally! I’ve been yelling at Matt Williams, and I’ve been yelling at Dusty Baker, like, ‘Let me go!'” he said, referring to former Washington managers.
“There’s obviously situations where I feel like I’m fast enough,” Scherzer said with a grin.
Then, taking a playful jab at former teammate Jayson Werth, Scherzer continued with this punch line: “If J-Dub can steal a base, so can I.”
On the mound, Scherzer (2-1) made a slight tweak with the way he holds the baseball, making his sure his fingers were on top of the ball and not on its side, and didn’t let the Braves push a runner beyond first base. Atlanta only produced two singles, by Kurt Suzuki in the second and Nick Markakis in the fifth, and neither advanced.
So even Scherzer managed to get farther than that: He swiped second after singling off reliever Peter Moylan in the seventh.
Howie Kendrick delivered all the offense Washington needed with a two-run double off Julio Teheran (0-1) in the first inning.
“Just got unlucky on that one,” Teheran said.
As Scherzer spoke to reporters afterward, a base sat to his right on the red carpet near his locker. Rookie manager Dave Martinez presented it to the 33-year-old righty — either as a keepsake or a prank, depending on who you asked.
“Honestly, I knew he was going to do it. We’ve talked about it for a week now. He’s gung-ho. He loves to play the game,” Martinez said. “We talked, I said, ‘Hey, if a guy plays behind you and you think you’ve got a chance. … But please, don’t get hurt sliding.’ He said ‘I’ve got the best pop-up slide in baseball.’ And he showed it.”
He’s got a pretty good pitching repertoire, too, of course. This was his ninth complete game in 299 major league starts, and he needed only 102 pitches, a far more efficient outing than his previous time on the mound: He threw 110 over five innings in a 7-1 loss at Atlanta on April 4.
Scherzer figured Monday’s success was due in part to Atlanta’s penchant for swinging early in counts, making for short at-bats.
“He put pitches where he wanted to,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said, noting that Scherzer was able to throw his cutter “to some spots where we didn’t have a chance to hit it.”
By the end, Scherzer was still reaching back for 95 mph pitches, finishing things off with strikeouts of pinch hitter Charlie Culberson and Ender Inciarte.
“Kind of like he got stronger as he went, too,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “Last couple of innings were his best.”
And the Nationals needed this one. It let them rest a weary bullpen one day after a 12-inning loss to the New York Mets.
Plus, this was the first time they entered a game with a losing record since August 2015. That’s because after starting this season 4-0, they had dropped five in a row, two to the Braves, then three in a sweep against the Mets.
Washington hadn’t lost that many consecutive games since a seven-game rut in June 2016.
ZIM HITTING ZIP
Nationals 1B Ryan Zimmerman went 0 for 4, dropping his season batting average to .097. His early production is getting a lot of scrutiny because he took only two Grapefruit League at-bats, instead opting to prepare in spring training on back fields and against minor league pitchers.
Nationals: 2B Howie Kendrick left after the seventh inning because his right leg “tightened up on him,” Martinez said. … C Matt Wieters (strained oblique muscle) will go to Class A Potomac on a rehab assignment Tuesday.
The Nationals send RHP Stephen Strasburg (1-0, 3.65 ERA) to the mound against Braces RHP Mike Foltynewicz (1-0, 2.61).
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