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Baker, Nats relying heavily on Scherzer

Manager's lack of faith in 'pen leads to lengthy starts for ace righty
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer was vying for his third career no-hitter June 21 against the Marlins, so Nationals manager Dusty Baker kept his ace in the game entering the eighth inning.

But as the right-hander ran into trouble in that inning, Baker didn't replace him before he relinquished the Nationals' 1-0 lead by giving up two runs and finishing with 121 pitches. At the time, Baker said there wasn't a better option in that situation, but that decision may have also stemmed from Baker's lack of faith in his bullpen, which entered Saturday with the highest ERA in the Majors.

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WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer was vying for his third career no-hitter June 21 against the Marlins, so Nationals manager Dusty Baker kept his ace in the game entering the eighth inning.

But as the right-hander ran into trouble in that inning, Baker didn't replace him before he relinquished the Nationals' 1-0 lead by giving up two runs and finishing with 121 pitches. At the time, Baker said there wasn't a better option in that situation, but that decision may have also stemmed from Baker's lack of faith in his bullpen, which entered Saturday with the highest ERA in the Majors.

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In the Nationals' 5-4 win over the Braves on Friday, Scherzer again was put to work by throwing 7 2/3 innings and 120 pitches. While Scherzer completed a dominant first half, finishing with a National League-best 2.10 ERA, there's also a lingering question of whether the 32-year-old was overworked due to the struggling bullpen, and whether that will affect him if the Nats make the postseason.

Video: Scherzer discusses the Nats' strong pitching

Scherzer's high pitch count Friday could also affect whether he starts the All-Star Game on Tuesday. Baker said he spoke with Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who's managing the NL All-Star team, and he expects the righty to only throw one inning.

Scherzer finished the first half with the most strikeouts in the NL (173), but he also averaged the most pitches per start (107.2). He's thrown at least 100 pitches in 15 of his 18 outings.

Washington's bullpen entered Saturday having thrown the fewest innings in the Majors (236). Baker has reinforced his desire for his starters to work late into games so he doesn't have to depend on his bullpen for more than two innings.

On Friday, Scherzer said he felt good enough to continue pitching into the eighth, but Baker said he might have pulled him if the All-Star break wasn't coming up.

Video: WSH@STL: Scherzer strikes out 12 over seven scoreless

"You've got to give him a chance," Baker said Friday, "because like I said, who can you bring in out of the bullpen that's better than Max?"

While Scherzer wasn't as effective through the first half last season, the Nationals lost both of his starts in the NL Division Series, including Game 7, after he won the NL Cy Young Award. The Nats aren't worried about the postseason yet, but they entered Saturday with a 9 1/2-game lead over the Braves in the NL East, and they'll likely need their star pitcher to be fresh to make a run in October.

"I've had a great first half … but I also know the rest of the league is making adjustments against me," Scherzer said Friday. "It's going to be a fight in the second half. They're going to keep grinding you hard, so in one hand, I can say I've had a great first half. In the other, I know how much is in front of me with the rest of the season."

Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.

Washington Nationals, Max Scherzer