WASHINGTON (AP) — Max Scherzer kept throwing strikes, and the Tampa Bay Rays kept making outs.
It was just another efficient outing for the Washington Nationals ace, who pitched eight strong innings Tuesday in a 4-2 victory to become the first 10-game winner in the majors this season.
Scherzer (10-1) won his ninth consecutive decision, striking out 13 while throwing 81 of his 99 pitches for strikes.
“I looked up at one time and he had 86 pitches (and) 70 strikes,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s absurd. Guys just don’t do that. There’s a lot of good pitchers in this league, but for a guy to just sit there and pound the strike zone the way he did and not give up hard hits, it’s just really telling about how special a pitcher he is.”
Scherzer struck out Johnny Field, Christian Arroyo and Daniel Robertson on a combined nine pitches in the sixth inning. It was the third nine pitch/three strikeout inning in Nationals history and the first since Scherzer did it against Philadelphia on May 14, 2017.
Scherzer joins Hall of Famers Lefty Grove, Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan as the only pitchers to accomplish the feat twice.
“I honestly didn’t know I had it; then I walked off the field and I was like ‘Wait a second, I think that was it,'” Scherzer said.
Sean Doolittle pitched the ninth for his 15th save in 16 opportunities.
Scherzer, who has struck out 25 over 16 innings in his last two starts, scattered five hits to Tampa Bay and did not allow a runner past second base until pinch hitter Brad Miller’s two-out double in the eighth.
“Twenty-five out of 28 first-pitch strikes,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said. “That’s pretty much as good as it gets. He was awesome tonight.”
Washington first baseman Matt Adams’ solo homer to lead off the second opened the scoring. Juan Soto then singled, moved to third on Michael A. Taylor’s single and slid under Wilson Ramos’ tag when first baseman C.J. Cron threw home on Wilmer Difo’s grounder.
Soto and Difo were central to a fourth-inning rally. Two batters after Soto worked a walk, Difo tripled to right-center and made it 4-0 when he slid under Tampa Bay starter Nathan Eovaldi’s tag after a wild pitch.
Eovaldi (1-1) gave up four runs in five innings in his second start back from Tommy John surgery.
“I feel like I was ahead in most of the counts tonight,” Eovaldi said. “I just couldn’t put them away. I just couldn’t get that splitter going and the cutter wasn’t as good as it was in that opening start.”
Ramos, a National from 2010 to 2016, received an ovation before his first at-bat and went 0 for 4 in his first game in Washington since departing as a free agent.
Rays: Placed RHP Chris Archer (left abdominal strain) on the 10-day disabled list. Archer left his start at Seattle Saturday and is making his first career DL stint. “I don’t want to put a timetable on it, but I think we’re going to see him sooner than later,” Cash said. To replace Archer on the roster, Tampa Bay recalled RHP Diego Castillo from Triple-A Durham. Castillo is 0-1 with a 1.03 ERA and four saves in 19 games this season.
Nationals: Placed RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) on the 10-day disabled list. Hellickson (2-0, 2.28 ERA) left his start Sunday at Atlanta after facing one batter. … LHP Tim Collins was activated from the paternity list. … LHP Matt Grace (left groin strain) was activated from the DL. Grace is 0-0 with a 5.06 ERA in 10 appearances. … RHP Jefry Rodriguez was optioned to Double-A Harrisburg. Rodriguez pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings in his major league debut Sunday. … Martinez said 2B Daniel Murphy (right knee) will continue his rehabilitation assignment at Harrisburg. . OF Adam Eaton (left ankle bone bruise) was 2 for 5 with a home run in a rehab game for Class A Potomac on Tuesday.
Tuesday marked the first of Tampa Bay’s 10 games in National League parks, and Cash had some simple instructions for his pitchers who have to hit for the first time this season.
“You just hope they don’t hurt themselves,” Cash said. “I know Archer got a big hit in Wrigley for us (last year) and helped us win a game. Other than that, they all kind of looked like me at the plate. It’s better they stand in the batter’s box, don’t swing, don’t pull an oblique and if we ask you to get a bunt down, don’t get your fingers pinched.”
Eovaldi lined to second in his lone at bat.
Rays: LHP Jonny Venters (1-0, 0.87 ERA) will make his first major league start in his 245th career appearance as the two-game series concludes.
Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (2-6, 3.61) starts against Tampa Bay for the first time since 2015.
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