ATLANTA -- Sweat fell from the brim of Max Scherzer's cap as he stood on the mound, attempting to pitch himself out of a jam on a humid night in Atlanta. It was only the second inning, but his hat was soaked so profusely that he went to the dugout to receive a new one in between batters at one point.
Scherzer never appeared comfortable on the mound Friday night at SunTrust Park, in part thanks to a muggy night, but also thanks to a relentless Braves offense, which tagged him for a season-high six runs in four innings in the Nationals' 10-5 loss. It was a very un-Scherzer-like outing for the National League Cy Young Award candidate, who gave up seven hits and walked three, as he labored through 102 pitches.
Scherzer had not surrendered that many runs in just over a year -- he gave up seven runs on Sept. 13, 2017, also against Atlanta. This poor outing also dealt a setback to Scherzer's bid for a third consecutive Cy Young Award, increasing his ERA to 2.53 on the season.
"Tonight I wasn't able to get in a rhythm," Scherzer said. "It's also kind of at their expense of what they were able to do against me tonight. I never felt like I had great command of any of the pitches. I was pitching out of the stretch, and I never felt like I could really get in sync with my timing, rhythm, mechanics, you name it. They made me work. They fouled off balls. Just an unfortunate way for things to happen."
The Nationals fell to 7-10 against the Braves this season and just 2-6 in Atlanta, one of the reasons for the gap between the two teams in the NL East standings. And while Scherzer has been brilliant since joining the Nats in 2015, the Braves are the one team he has seemed comparatively human against. Entering Friday, he owned a 3.39 ERA against the Braves in the past three seasons -- solid, but not the stellar numbers that have become routine for Scherzer.
Atlanta is now responsible for three of the eight starts in which Scherzer has given up at least four earned runs during his 62 starts dating back to the start of 2017.
"I wasn't putting myself in position to be successful," Scherzer said. "When you do that against a team like that, you pay. Especially in this division, when they really know what you've got, you pay even more. So that's what's going to happen."
This game also featured a showcase for the two front-runners for the NL Rookie of the Year Award as Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna Jr. impressed at the plate. Soto launched his 20th homer of the year, giving him the third most by a teenager in MLB history. Meanwhile, Acuna finished a home run shy of the cycle, collecting a career-high four hits, including a two-run single in the second inning against Scherzer.
"He's really impressive in what he does," Soto said. "I just watch him and have fun with that. I just tell him, 'Keep it up, and never give up.' Everything he does is fun. I keep watching him. He's amazing."
Acuna was not the only hitter Scherzer had issues putting away on Friday. His two-strike pitches did not carry the same sharpness as usual, and five of the six runs he allowed came with two outs.
"Max wasn't Max tonight," manager Dave Martinez said. "He threw 100 pitches in four innings. That's not who he is. He tried to keep us in the game … but he just wasn't himself."
Soto (19 years, 324 days old) became the second-youngest player in MLB history with 20 homers, behind only Tony Conigliaro (19 years, 201 days old). Soto trails only Bryce Harper (22) and Conigliaro (24) on the list for the most homers by a teenager in MLB history.
There is no pitcher that Harper has had more success against in his career than Braves right-hander Julio Teheran, who will take the mound for Atlanta on Saturday afternoon at SunTrust Park. Harper is batting .450 with eight home runs in 40 career at-bats against Teheran. Jeremy Hellickson will make his first start since Aug. 15 after a wrist injury sidelined him for a month. First pitch is at 1:05 p.m. ET.