SAN DIEGO -- Predictability in baseball is generally a bad thing. Pitchers, batters, managers -- none of them want to fall into patterns that allow the opposition to anticipate what’s coming.
Predictable production, now that’s another thing entirely.
Both patterns repeated themselves Saturday night as Scherzer threw seven scoreless innings and Dozier homered for his 1,000th career hit to boost the Nationals to a 4-1 victory over the Padres at Petco Park.
“He gave us the game we needed to get,” Martinez said of his ace. “That’s who Max Scherzer is.”
After squandering leads and losing each of the first two games of the four-game series, the Nats can salvage a series split with San Diego native Stephen Strasburg starting the finale on Sunday.
Scherzer put the Nats in that position with a true stopper effort Saturday. He struck out nine and allowed six hits. His only walk was an intentional pass to get to the pitcher’s spot in the second inning. Scherzer lowered his ERA to 2.83, a fairly predictable number for a pitcher whose ERA has been below 3.00 in each season since he joined the Nationals in 2015.
The Padres had one real crack at Scherzer. He allowed two hits, plus the intentional walk, in the second inning, but the real danger came from rookie Josh Naylor’s 105.6 mph grounder up the middle that struck Scherzer on the left calf.
Scherzer was able to grab the deflected ball and get an out at first base, and he stayed in the game without a visit from the training staff. He kept the Padres off the board in the inning with a fielder’s choice groundout and a strikeout of opposing pitcher Eric Lauer. The Padres never got more than one runner aboard against Scherzer in any subsequent inning.
“I’ve been hit in the calf before,” he said. “You’ve got to see if it’s going to tighten up on you. We have some ways to treat it between innings, kind of compress it and try to keep it from getting worse.
“I felt I had to go out there and pitch and still get through it. It didn’t feel good to run, but I could still pitch. That’s when you just get rid of all the excuses of why you might fail and just come up with reasons why you want to win. Just keep making pitches and execute the way you want to.”
Dozier is in his first season in Washington, but he’s following a well-established personal pattern. Over the course of his eight Major League seasons, he has a .680 OPS in March/April and .723 in May. Come June, that number jumps to .844. Eight days into this June, Dozier already has four multihit games, three home runs and a .474 batting average.
“The big thing is getting rid of bad habits I developed last year,” said Dozier, who was bothered by a right knee bone bruise for much of 2018. “I’m back to my old self.”
Dozier’s milestone 1,000th hit was a two-run homer off Padres starter Eric Lauer in the fourth inning that made the score 3-0. He pulled a 91.5 mph, first-pitch fastball into the left-field stands, 102 mph off the bat for his 10th homer of the season.
The ball was corralled by a 15-year-old high school student from San Diego. Dozier was able to get it back as a memento by trading an autographed ball and taking a picture with the fan.
“We had a nice chat,” he said.
There wasn’t a need for too many chats between Martinez and Dozier when the second baseman was languishing below .200 through mid-May. Though it’s his first season watching Dozier on a daily basis, the manager had full confidence the track record meant more than the early-season results.
“If I didn’t have that confidence in him, he wouldn’t have played as much as he has,” Martinez said. “I always say this about numbers: At the end of the year, you are who you are. We know he’s going to hit.”
During his short time in Washington, Dozier has learned another thing about confidence: The Nationals’ confidence is never higher than when Scherzer has the ball.
“Nothing really fazes him; he’s a competitor,” Dozier said. “If he’s able to go, he’s going to go. He always wants the ball. I knew that from afar. Now, as his teammate, he never lets up. He’s Mad Max. He’s going to the end. If there’s anyone you want on the mound, that’s him.”