MIAMI -- With the Nationals starting a crucial 12-game stretch before the All-Star break that could help them gain ground in the National League standings, they sent their ace to the mound for Tuesday's series opener in Miami. And he delivered again.
Max Scherzer continued his incredible June with eight dominant innings that lifted the Nationals to a 6-1 win over the Marlins on Tuesday night at Marlins Park.
After giving up a leadoff single to Miguel Rojas in the first, Scherzer scattered only four more hits. He threw 94 pitches (71 strikes) and fanned 10, marking his seventh double-digit-strikeout game this season and his third straight.
Scherzer exited the game after a season-low number of pitches, a decision that Nationals manager Dave Martinez made because he wanted to keep the pitcher below 100.
“All his pitches were down, he utilized the strike zone really well, his cutter was really good,” Martinez said. “He’s Max: He attacked the strike zone and pitched really well.”
Since allowing a season-high seven runs in a loss to the Marlins on April 20, Scherzer has a 1.76 ERA with 112 strikeouts in his last 12 starts. He is 5-0 with a 0.97 ERA in five June starts, striking out 54.
“They know how to play in this atmosphere, and that's what they're really good at, is really catching you and grinding you away,” Scherzer said. “That happened to me coming down here last time out. I was fully aware of that. I wanted to come out there and really put my 'A' game against them, not only for that, just for the team as well.”
Scherzer also went 2-for-3, which included laying down a bunt single to get on base before Trea Turner hit a three-run homer to put the Nationals up, 6-0, in the fourth. This came exactly one week after Scherzer sustained a broken nose while bunting during batting practice at Nationals Park.
The veteran righty pitched the day after his bunting mishap, tossing seven scoreless innings in a win over the Phillies. He still had bruising on his face Tuesday, but it wasn’t quite as noticeable as his start last Wednesday, and it again didn’t prevent him from turning in a strong outing.
Despite collecting the second-most strikeouts (72) with a four-seam fastball in 2019 entering Tuesday’s game, per Statcast, Scherzer utilized his offspeed pitches more against Miami. Seven of his 10 strikeouts came via a changeup or slider. He used his slider 27 percent of the time, compared to 21.1 on the season, and his changeup 14.9 percent, compared to 14.1.
“I really thought I was pitching more with all of my offspeed pitches and just allowed [catcher Kurt Suzuki] to sequence them all together,” Scherzer said. “We had a good game plan coming in of what we wanted to work on. Really executed with every single offspeed pitch. When I can do that, I can be consistent with those offspeed pitches, it makes [Suzuki] that much better. … We can mix and match all the pitches together and turn the lineup over and avoid any big innings.”
Scherzer’s effort marked the beginning of a 12-game stretch in which the Nats will face the Marlins (six games), Royals (three) and Tigers (three) -- all teams that have a winning percentage of less than .400 -- leading up to the All-Star break. Washington trails NL East-leading Atlanta by eight games, and it sits 2 1/2 games behind second-place Philadelphia.
The last time the Nats opened a series against the Marlins on May 24, they entered 12 games below .500. Since then, Washington (38-40) has outscored opponents, 170-119, en route to a 19-9 record over that stretch.
“Especially when you're behind games, every game counts,” Turner said. “You don't want to give games away. You may gain ground faster if you're playing whoever's in first or who’s in front of you. But these count, too, and those guys have to play somebody and win also. So, each day counts, and if we can take advantage of it and win those games -- win the games that are in front of us -- then we’ll be all right.”