Max Scherzer’s Major League-leading consecutive scoreless inning streak came to an abrupt halt on Tuesday night at TD Ballpark, when he gave up a grand slam in the third frame to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. -- followed by another homer from the Blue Jays slugger in the fifth.
Scherzer entered the series opener in Dunedin, Fla., having recorded 17 straight scoreless frames. The longest active streak in all of baseball, it dated back to the third inning vs. the Dodgers on April 11.
“I didn’t pitch well tonight,” Scherzer said following the Nats’ 9-5 loss. “That’s obvious.”
Scherzer had set the bar high heading into his fifth start of the season -- to say he had been efficient as of late would be an understatement. He last surrendered two homers to the same player in a single game on Opening Day, when Ronald Acuña Jr. went yard twice for the Braves. But since then, he had posted a 0.47 ERA with 24 strikeouts and a .138 opponents’ batting average over his last three starts.
“Just made a couple crucial mistakes to Vladdy, honestly, and it cost him,” manager Dave Martinez said.
Scherzer loaded the bases in the third with back-to-back singles and a walk, before Guerrero rocked an 86.7 mph slider a Statcast-projected 415 feet to left-center field. The plan was for a down-and-away pitch, but it stayed thigh-high, an area Scherzer is working to avoid. Guerrero noted after the game he actually was looking for a pitch up in the zone.
“I’d already shown him enough, so I know that was kind of a dangerous pitch to throw,” Scherzer said. “But I thought if I got it down and away, we had a chance to get another ground ball out of him, or at least get it to two strikes and maybe he could foul it off. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way.”
Guerrero did more damage in the fifth, when he worked a full count for a 436-foot leadoff homer off Scherzer’s 94.2-mph fastball. The 36-year-old Scherzer joined Iván Nova as only the second pitcher to give up at least one homer to the 22-year-old Guerrero Jr. and his father, Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr.
“Hitting two homers against a legend like that,” Guerrero said of Scherzer, via translator Hector Lebron, “it’s unbelievable what I’m feeling right now.”
Scherzer’s night ended after that inning. He allowed seven runs (five earned) on eight hits and two walks, while fanning five over 86 pitches (54 strikes). Scherzer recognized inconsistency with his glove-side work, and noted he wasn’t able to make in-game adjustments fast enough to avoid the Blue Jays’ damage.
But the pitcher who gave up two home runs to Guerrero is also the same pitcher who’d been shutting down opponents in recent outings. Scherzer views this start as an opportunity to take a step back, reassess and get back on track.
“Everything’s a quick fix once you get into the middle of the season,” Scherzer said. “When you’re on a roll, it’s easy to develop bad ticks and you just kind of brush them aside -- just because you’re in rhythm, you think that you can keep going and you don’t realize that you’re creating bad habits. Then obviously when you catch a buzzsaw, then all of a sudden you get beat.
“Sometimes getting beat and beaten around can kind of help you get your head on straight, and really dial in exactly what you want to do with the baseball next time when you’re out there.”