Scherzer 'sets the tone' in 11-strikeout gem

August 29th, 2020

Max Scherzer showed the Red Sox pretty much all his pitches right there in the first inning. His fastball was as good as it has been all season, and everything flowed from there. Still, it was those early innings that set a tone, and that might have been when Boston knew how this was going to go.

Scherzer sailed through six innings on Friday night at Fenway Park, allowing one run in an 11-strikeout no-walk gem as the Nationals opened a 10-day, 11-game road trip with a 10-2 victory.

Scherzer had allowed nine earned runs in 11 2/3 innings across his last two starts. So he needed a performance like this to get both himself and his team back on track. That’s the definition of a staff ace.

“Max set the tone,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said. “He had a sense of calmness. He had a good game plan. And his location was really good.”

The Nationals gave him a 5-0 lead in the top of the third inning when Trea Turner doubled in two runs and then Juan Soto slammed a 3-0 changeup from Red Sox lefty Martín Pérez over the right-field wall with a runner on to make it 4-0.

Pérez then tried to slip another changeup by Howie Kendrick, who deposited it over the Green Monster to put Washington up 5-0. The Nationals collected 16 hits in all, including three apiece by Victor Robles and Turner along with a Josh Harrison homer.

The Nationals were far enough in front -- 7-1 in the sixth inning -- that Martinez felt comfortable giving the ball to lefty Ben Braymer for his Major League debut. He allowed one run in 1 1/3 innings, and of all the ways he thought his career would begin, an empty Fenway Park on Jackie Robinson Day wasn’t it.

“You know, what a cool day to get my feet wet and have my first appearance in the big leagues on Jackie Robinson Day,” Braymer said. “Really humbling and awesome. And to run out with no fans, definitely a little weird, but honestly, I didn't even really think about it.”

Before the game, Martinez said he was thrilled to get back to baseball after an emotionally draining Thursday that included a postponement of a Nationals-Phillies game in an attempt to call attention to the police shooting of yet another Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wis.

Martinez’s voice cracked beforehand as he spoke of confronting racism and other issues, especially on Jackie Robinson Day, which Major League Baseball celebrated on Friday with every player wearing his No. 42.

“It felt good to play, especially on a day like today,” Harrison said. “Considering what Jackie represented, his legacy, I think it was a great day for us all to come back and play and represent him. There’s a reason that we play, and that’s [because of] the sacrifices that he made. It allows you to go out and play the game you love.”

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Scherzer opened the game by striking out Red Sox leadoff man Alex Verdugo on a cutter, then got Rafael Devers on a 95-mph heater. By the middle innings, he was working his slider and even a changeup or two into the mix.

He’d made a mechanical change regarding the placement of his hands since his last start, but mostly, the Red Sox just caught one of the best ever on one of those nights.

“I thought that really allowed me to be able to execute high fastballs with a lot more ease tonight,” Scherzer said. “When I can do that, that's when we can start sequencing and every pitch starts playing off each other.

“When I pitch with my fastball and locate, that’s when I pitch my best. That’s what I’m most happy about tonight.”

He said five of the six hits he allowed were on pitches thrown to the right spot.

“Other than that, I was happy with my execution,” Scherzer said, “so that's what has me feeling like that was a good start.”

He got 10 swings and misses on his fastball and four of the strikeouts came on cutters. When he was done, he’d gotten his 97th double-digit strikeout game to tie Sandy Koufax for fifth place on the all-time list.

“I’ve put in a lot of hard work over the years,” Scherzer said, “and the fact that you can even mention me in the same breath with him is an honor.”