WASHINGTON -- A pitching duel between two of the National League's best arms progressed as one would expect for six innings Thursday afternoon. Phillies starter Aaron Nola countered Nationals ace Max Scherzer's scoreless innings with his own, as the pair tested each other to see who would first throw a slip-up pitch.
That answer came in the seventh inning, when Odubel Herrera hit Scherzer's cutter beyond Nationals Park's right-field wall for a two-run homer.
"That was the one pitch that beat me," Scherzer said.
The Nationals came back from deficits the past two nights to beat their division rival, but in their 2-0 loss, they had no solution for Nola, who tossed eight scoreless innings.
Despite Thursday's defeat, the Nationals won their first series in three weeks after trading Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams on Tuesday. Washington, which will travel to Philadelphia next week, is 6 1/2 games back of the second Wild Card spot.
Scherzer noted Washington's trades were frustrating, but the Nationals haven't looked like a team ready to give up on this season.
"Keep it going," Scherzer said. "We've been playing good baseball, and we just got to do this every single day. Just go 1-0 every single day."
Scherzer, Nola and Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom are competing for the NL Cy Young Award, which Scherzer won the past two years. Scherzer leads the NL in wins (16) and strikeouts (244), while Nola is first in pitcher Wins Above Replacement (8.3). Scherzer and Nola are tied for the second-best ERA (2.13) behind deGrom.
Scherzer permitted just one hit before the seventh inning -- a Jorge Alfaro single that could've been called an error on Trea Turner. But Scherzer also notched his first four-walk game since last September, one of which put Maikel Franco on base for Herrera's dinger.
Three of Scherzer's walks came on 1-2 counts, situations Scherzer prides himself on being successful in.
"I was kind of inconsistent all day," the right-hander said. "I was searching for an arm slot."
"I actually thought he did a great job today," catcher Spencer Kieboom added.
Nola gave up five hits but kept the Nationals off-balance by mixing his pitches. After the Nationals put runners on first and second base with two outs in the eighth inning, Bryce Harper struck out after Nola followed three curveballs with two fastballs.
"Nola was really good today," Harper said. "Ever since the second half started and earlier in the year as well. He was absolutely lights out. You're going to have those days where a guy goes out there and does his job, and it's tough being on the other side, but special."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Greg Holland struck out the side in the ninth inning, continuing to improve after pitching to a 7.92 ERA with the Cardinals earlier this season.
Holland, a former All-Star closer, hasn't allowed a run since July 21. Nationals manager Dave Martinez said pitching coach Derek Lilliquist adjusted Holland's mechanics.
"He's really getting through the ball," Martinez said. "We talked to him about using his fastball a little more. He got up to 95 today, which was nice to see."
Scherzer has thrown at least six innings in 25 consecutive starts, which ties him with the Expos' Javier Vazquez for the longest streak in franchise history.
HE SAID IT
"It's not one of those where it's necessarily hard to see. He just does a good job of changing speeds with it. The speed's consistent, but it's a slower curveball, and it doesn't pop out of the hand. That's what makes it so effective I feel like." -- Kieboom, on Nola's curveball
The Nationals begin a three-game series against the Mets at Citi Field on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Friday is also the beginning of Players' Weekend in which players will don jerseys with their nicknames. Giovany Gonzalez will continue trying to work out of his slump. The left-hander has allowed five or more runs over four his past six starts and is 1-3 with an 8.84 ERA in four August outings. Mets starter Jason Vargas will face Washington for the first time since 2006.