MILWAUKEE -- Yes, the Washington Nationals had lost five straight games, their longest losing streak of a season otherwise characterized by success.But that streak was nearly certain to stop on Friday night when Max Scherzer took the mound against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.You could not forget the last
MILWAUKEE -- Yes, the Washington Nationals had lost five straight games, their longest losing streak of a season otherwise characterized by success.
But that streak was nearly certain to stop on Friday night when Max Scherzer took the mound against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.
You could not forget the last time he had pitched here, little more than one year ago. It was near-perfection, nobody reaching until the seventh inning when Carlos Gomez managed a little opposite-field flare that fell unattended. Scherzer didn't give up any more hits, and struck out 16.
Scherzer was completely dominant that day. With that in mind, with Scherzer's overall quality, that losing streak didn't have a chance. Strong starting pitching limits the length of losing streaks and Scherzer against the rebuilding Brewers would obviously spell the end of this five-game skid.
But it didn't. Scherzer and the Nationals ended up with their sixth straight defeat, 5-3, against the Brewers. This was way off the form chart, from the first inning forward.
Scherzer, who has walked two or fewer batters in 10 of his starts this year, walked three in the first inning. That lapse in his usually pinpoint command, set up a two-run single by Aaron Hill.
"I don't think you'll see Max start the game very often with three walks," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said.
There was no debating that notion. Scherzer, atypically, had to throw 38 pitches to get through the first.
"It's odd that I walked three hitters in the first inning," Scherzer said. "I was just missing here, just missing there. It led to extended at-bats, but I didn't feel like I was mechanically off or anything like that."
Scherzer then settled in, allowing only one baserunner in the next three innings. By this time, the Nationals had taken a 3-2 lead and order seemed to have been restored.
"At least from the second inning on I was able to attack the zone at the rate I'm usually capable of," Scherzer said.
But in the fifth, Scherzer gave up a pinch-hit home run to outfielder Keon Broxton. To that point, in 58 Major League at-bats, Broxton had not hit any home runs. In fact, he had hit very little to speak of, coming into the game with a .125 average.
In the sixth, outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who had twice earlier struck out on fastballs, got a 93-mph offering from Scherzer and turned it into a two-run homer. That provided the eventual difference in the final score.
"You know, Max has been bitten by the home run ball this year," Baker said.
Scherzer has given up 20 home runs in 107 1/3 innings in 2016. In both 2013 and 2014, Scherzer gave up only 18 home runs all season.
"It's one of those things I'll just scratch my head over," Scherzer said of the Nieuwenhuis home run. "The whole day I was able to have the fastball away work. I guess on a 2-1 count I used it too much and was a little too predictable with it. He caught up to it and blasted it."
Scherzer is a seeker of perfection and an intense competitor. This outing left him pointing the finger of blame at himself.
"I'm disappointed," Scherzer said. "The offense picked me up after the first inning and we had a 3-2 lead and I didn't hold the lead. That's what I pride myself on when you go out there, you have those shutdown innings.
"And when you've got a 3-2 lead in the fifth that's the time to step out and help the ball club out, especially now, when we're scuffling a little. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do that tonight and that's why I'm frustrated."
This defeat was not all Scherzer's fault. The Nationals' offense had a glorious chance to reclaim this game in the eighth, putting runners on second and third with no outs against reliever Tyler Thornburg. A strikeout and a walk left the bases loaded with one out, but another strikeout and a pop foul extinguished the threat. The Nats had numerous opportunities, but they wasted many of those, largely because they struck out 16 times.
The Nats had chased Zach Davies, who has been Milwaukee's best starter lately, putting up a 0.96 ERA in June prior to this start. Davies gave up three runs over five innings, as many runs as he had allowed in his last four starts combined. But the Nats could not subsequently score against four Milwaukee relievers.
Still, the surprise here was the ace of the Washington rotation being considerably less than his best self. The Nationals rotation ranked third in the Majors in ERA from their starting pitchers after 73 games. These are the people who are supposed to prevent the small losing streaks that every team has from becoming long losing streaks. Saturday at Miller Park, this task will be handed over to Gio Gonzalez.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.