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Exhibition not Max's best, 'but that’s good'

@jessicacamerato
July 18, 2020

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer knew heading into Summer Camp that he was only going to have four outings before taking the mound as the Opening Day starter on July 23. Even though the Nationals’ first exhibition game on Saturday resulted in a 7-2 loss to the Phillies, Scherzer gleaned value

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer knew heading into Summer Camp that he was only going to have four outings before taking the mound as the Opening Day starter on July 23.

Even though the Nationals’ first exhibition game on Saturday resulted in a 7-2 loss to the Phillies, Scherzer gleaned value from allowing seven runs in his five "innings" -- his first time facing another team since mid-March in Spring Training. (Scherzer recorded 13 outs, pitching a pair of two-out innings to keep cycling through frames while keeping his pitch count controllable.)

“I got beat around a little bit, but that’s good,” Scherzer said. “You have to work out of the stretch. You have to make pitches in those types of situations. That’s what happens in the regular season. It’s not always going through lineups and everything’s easy.

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“In the big leagues, you have a lot of innings like that where you have to be able to go out and grind. The fact that I did give up runs, that’s the type of situation that you’re going to be in during the season.”

Scherzer started out the game in Scherzer fashion, striking out the first batter, Andrew McCutchen, on just three pitches. From there, he plunked Roman Quinn with a 94 mph cutter. After forcing Bryce Harper to ground out to second, Scherzer walked Rhys Hoskins and put two men on for Didi Gregorius. The Phillies’ shortstop powered an 89 mph slider a Statcast-projected 404 feet into right-center field and sent the Nats into an early 3-0 hole.

After a sacrifice fly in the second, the Nationals’ deficit ballooned to 7-0 when Harper drove a 94.1 mph cutter into the center-field stands for another three-run homer.

A fly-ball pitcher, Scherzer allowed two homers in just three games last season, including twice down the stretch in September. He has given up two or more long shots in 58 contests over his career.

“Max is going to come out Opening Day and be fired up and compete. Today was no different,” said manager Dave Martinez. “He likes to go through innings in Spring Training where he struggles and he’s got to dig deep. We know that. I think he’s going to be ready. He said he felt really good after he came out, which was nice.”

After surrendering the two three-run shots, Scherzer settled in. He did not allow another hit, pitched 1-2-3 frames in the third and fifth and fanned the final three batters he faced. Scherzer concluded his outing with 88 pitches (58 strikes), six hits, seven earned runs, two walks and six strikeouts.

“Today was the first kind of dry run of going through scouting reports, kind of getting my routine -- really more so than any other Spring Training start or exhibition game I’ve thrown because of how fast we’re trying to ramp up here, and the season’s limited,” Scherzer said, before adding: “That really bodes well, to go out there and really compete deep in the game -- more so than I even thought I was going to be able to coming into this.”

In only five days' time, Scherzer will be one of four starters headlining Opening Day, when he faces off against Gerrit Cole and the Yankees. It’s not hard to imagine the intensity-exuding veteran filling an empty Nationals Park with the fervor of his alone.

“The adrenaline hits,” Scherzer said. “It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been in this. When you get to Opening Day, and you play Opening Day, it’s special. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or your last. It’s the start of baseball, and it’s been too long without baseball. And it’s pretty cool that we’re the first ones to go.”

Jessica Camerato covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicacamerato, Facebook and Instagram.