Max Scherzer is the stopper and delivers the win!

The Washington Nationals needed to end a 2-game skid, and Max Scherzer delivered with a 7-inning 2-run performance that finished with one in the “W” column. Scherzer exited with a 5-2 lead, and his offense gave him two more runs after they pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the 7th inning. Even with a 5-run lead, it got tense in the 8th inning as Wander Suero had to be pulled after allowing a run and exiting with two runners on-base. Tanner Rainey quickly put out the fire with a quick out as he stopped the ball ticketed for centerfield with the back of his leg as the ball hit his just below the back of his knee. The final score on this one in favor of the Nats was 7-3.

“It’s a great team win and everyone had their hand in it,” Scherzer said. “For me, you don’t get caught up in results — you worry about process. You worry about how you’re executing pitches and how you’re sequencing them together. That’s a huge thing of how you keep a hitter off-balance.”

It was a game of inches as the Nationals might never have scored a run in the third inning after Michael Taylor singled to start things off, and he was nearly picked-off by the Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray. The Diamondbacks took a long look at their video and did not challenge that play. Seconds later, Max Scherzer laid down a bunt and Taylor sprinted to second base as Robbie Ray tried to get Taylor on a force play on Scherzer’s bunt but threw the ball into centerfield advancing Taylor to third base and bringing up Trea Turner for the Nats best scoring opportunity. In a clutch at-bat, Turner delivered with a double to the leftfield wall scoring Taylor and moving Scherzer to third base. In all, three runs scored in that third inning and later in the game, Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick both homered.

The Nats manufactured five of their seven runs with small ball via bunts and steals and sacrifice flies which included a ball that was basically a pop-up to shallow centerfield by Rendon and Trea Turner sprinted home from third base and beat the throw by inches. The play was challenged by the Diamondbacks, and Turner was ruled safe. Speed kills and it was on display tonight.

“[Speed] makes a world of difference especially when you’re on the mound, and you have to worry about guys running and making things happen. The focus tends go on the baserunner and not necessarily the hitter,” manager Dave Martinez said about speed on the bases.

This win was really about process on both sides of the ball. Relatively  speaking, Scherzer had an easy game at 104 pitches as he was pitch efficient with many quicker innings and still got 10-strikeouts. With those strikeouts, Scherzer passed both Bob Feller and Warren Spahn on the all-time strikeout list and standing at number twenty-seven currently as he marches up the list with Tom Glavine next on the list at 2,607. Scherzer is just 23 K’s away from passing by Glavine and 27 K’s from passing Chuck Finley for 25th all-time.

For the record, the 3-time Cy Young winner continues to treat the team that drafted him rather rudely with a 7-0 lifetime record against them with a 2.85 ERA and a .183 batting average.

“[The bullpen] provides consistency and allows us to get on [a streak],” Scherzer said. “We knew how talented they were. We knew that they could go out there and execute pitches, and that they have big-time stuff, too.”

When Martinez went to the bullpen to finish the last two innings, he took no chances in the ninth inning calling on his closer, Sean Doolittle, in a non-save situation with a 4-run lead. It seemed prudent to give the “hot” Diamondbacks no opening for a comeback. The Nationals bullpen ERA improved to 6.22 after last night and as a group the bullpen is now 24th in runs given up — not great, but better than ranking at number thirty. Entering this game, the Nationals bullpen in the prior two week span has led the Majors with a 1.91 ERA.

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