Manager Dave Martinez recognized the starting pitcher on the mound for the Nationals on Monday night. He was the one who had won three Cy Young Awards, earned seven All-Star selections and helped Washington capture its first World Series. He also was the pitcher who propelled the playoff-chasing Nats to defeat the American League-leading Rays, 6-1, with a standout performance at Nationals Park.
“That’s the Max that we know right there,” Martinez said. “He really pitched well. Needed that today, needed those seven innings from him, and he did it pretty easy.”
For the second time this season, Max Scherzer threw at least seven scoreless innings. On Monday, he earned the win for it and improved to 4-2 on the season.
Scherzer held the Rays -- who came into the two-game Interleague Series having won nine of their last 11 -- without a run on six hits, one walk and eight strikeouts. After throwing 40 pitches in the first two innings, he settled in and tossed 104 on the night (70 for strikes).
“During this past turn, I reflected on how I’ve been pitching and I just didn’t think my curveball and changeup have been executed as well as I could have,” Scherzer said. “I feel like my changeup has been kind of flat, it hasn’t been getting the swings and misses as it usually does. In the bullpen, I really worked on trying to mechanically deliver that one right. I felt like tonight, I was finally able to start throwing some changeups and that really helped me out.
“Then the curveball, I was able to get some more plate with it, and be able to get underneath the zone and be able to get some swing and misses. When I’m able to execute those two pitches, especially when they’ve got seven lefties in their lineup, it allows the fastball, cutter to play up even more.”
The Rays were a new-look opponent for Scherzer. He had not faced Tampa Bay since 2018, when he went 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA and 17 strikeouts over two starts. The only players in the Rays’ lineup he had pitched against were Kevin Kiermaier, Brett Phillips and Joey Wendle. Scherzer studied his scouting report and then checked in with teammates who had competed against the Rays more often for their feedback, too. He said he used the early at-bats to gauge the opponent, and then regrouped in the middle innings to assess the plan of attack.
“It’s a challenge when you face guys for the first time because you don’t know exactly what’s going to go on,” Scherzer said. “You just try to execute pitches, and sometimes they haven’t seen your pitches, so that can play up for you. It’s a cat-and-mouse game -- it always is -- whether you’ve faced somebody for the first time or the 20th time. It always comes back to execution.”
Regardless of how many times the Rays hitters had battled Scherzer firsthand, they had seen enough over his star-studded career to know what they were going up against. It was more of the same on Monday.
“Even going back with the Tigers, once he settles in, he gets really tough,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Whether it’s command or extra velocity, there’s a reason why he’s going to the Hall of Fame one day, whenever he decides to not pitch anymore.”
Scherzer, who struck out eight, is the only starting pitcher in Major League history with a K/9 rate above 10.0 for eight consecutive seasons. It is 12.34 this year. Scherzer looks more at the fact he was able to make his ninth start of 2020.
“Awesome -- we’re in the strikeout era,” Scherzer said. “I’m more worried about durability, just going out there and making starts every time. Make your starts -- whatever you’ve got to do -- and keep your body fresh. So the rates, that’s great, but at the same time, for me, it’s about actually just making the post every single time no matter what.”