'Best game I've ever pitched': Herz joins Nats legend with 13-K, zero-BB outing

June 15th, 2024

WASHINGTON -- Rookie left-hander DJ Herz made history on the mound at Nationals Park in the Nats' 4-0 win over the Marlins on Saturday.

Herz, the Nats’ No. 12 prospect per MLB Pipeline, joined Stephen Strasburg as the only pitchers with 13-plus strikeouts and zero walks in one of his first three Major League outings, dating back to at least 1901. Strasburg accomplished the feat with 14 strikeouts on June 8, 2010, against the Pirates.

“It still doesn’t feel real,” Herz said. “It’s an awesome feeling.”

Herz, 23, was perfect through four innings, including eight strikeouts. He did not allow a baserunner until he gave up a leadoff single to Jake Burger in the top of the fifth. He completed his day on an efficient 84 pitches (57 strikes).

“Strike one, strike one, strike one,” said manager Dave Martinez. “I think he only fell behind twice. He was pounding the strike zone, something that we talked about over the last couple days about utilizing your fastball, getting ahead. He was really good, really good. He gave us 18 big outs.”

Herz delivered his four-seam fastball, which reached 94.7 mph, for 52 percent of his pitches, while also working his changeup (35 percent), cutter (10 percent) and slider (four percent). Herz had predicted to pitching strategist Sean Doolittle on Friday that locating his changeup in the zone was going to “be key” -- and he was right.

“His changeup was working today,” said Marlins manager Skip Schumaker. “... When he can throw it for strikes and expand with two strikes, it’s super effective when he’s pounding the zone with the fastball as well. When you can throw the fastball at the top for a strike and then tunnel it off the changeup, it’s difficult to hit. … I hate to tip my cap sometimes to the opposing pitcher, but today was a really good day for him and a tough day for us.”

Herz reached the Nationals' highest strikeout total since Max Scherzer (14) on May 8, 2021, against the Yankees. He tallied the second-most strikeouts in a game by a Nationals rookie (2005-present), and became the sixth rookie to record double-digit strikeouts in a game, joining Strasburg (14 and 10), John Lannan (11), Reynaldo López (11), Joe Ross (11) and Josiah Gray (10).

Among his peers, he holds the strikeout mark by a rookie lefty this season; only Yankees right-hander Luis Gil has recorded more strikeouts in 2024 (14).

“Honestly, I’m more happy about the no walks than the K’s,” said Herz. “If I don’t walk guys, I’m going to strike guys out. That’s kind of how it’s always been. It’s just all about being in the zone, and when we’re not walking we’re going to have a good day.”

Herz, who was acquired from the Cubs organization last season in the Jeimer Candelario trade, debuted on June 4. He entered the game with a 6.48 ERA over his first two starts (8 1/3 innings), but dropped his ERA to 3.77 after his longest career outing.

“He did a great job of just kind of staying at a level head the whole time,” said catcher Drew Millas, who also caught Herz’s 10-strikeout performance on May 30 with Triple-A Rochester. “I’m sure his confidence definitely went up, but I think you never really saw him get too antsy on the mound, he didn’t have any big misses. That’s usually a telltale that he’s pretty locked in and calm, and it was good to see today.”

Herz credited fellow starter Jake Irvin for recently encouraging him to be a “stone cold killer” on the mound and “lay it all out on the line,” which helped him pitch in a flow state. Saturday’s head-turning outing was the most relaxed and comfortable he has felt.

“I think that was probably my best game I’ve ever pitched,” Herz said. “To do it at this level is a great feeling. I’m just happy to enjoy it with these guys today.”