WASHINGTON -- The Nationals headed into Monday night carrying a five-game losing streak that saw them fall below .500 for the first time in three years, with a taxed bullpen from their extra-inning affair the previous night. Enter the two-time defending National League Cy Young Award winner in Max Scherzer, who answered the call and halted the skid with a shutout in the Nationals' 2-0 victory over the Braves at Nationals Park.
Scherzer held Atlanta to two hits and struck out 10 in the ninth complete game of his career and his fifth career shutout. He did not issue a walk and did not permit a runner to reach second base. Scherzer even added his first career stolen base in the seventh inning, swiping second base without a throw after catching the Braves off guard. Scherzer joined Nolan Ryan (May 16, 1984, against the Pirates) as the only other hurler in the live-ball era (since 1920) to pitch a shutout, strike out at least 10 batters and steal a base in one game.
"I mean, that's a guy, that's a player," catcher Pedro Severino said. "He's awesome. He can pitch. He can hit now. He can steal second, too."
Less than a week ago, the Braves' offense got the best of Scherzer in a victory in Atlanta. They pestered him with long at-bats and ran his pitch count up to 110 pitches in five innings. Immediately after that outing, Scherzer went back to the video room. He made a mechanical tweak to improve his release point.
That tweak allowed him to be much more efficient Monday night, needing just 102 pitches to finish his gem. Once he got through the seventh inning with just 82 pitches, he started thinking he had a chance to finish things off. And once Scherzer gets on a roll late in games, parading and stomping around the mound with the vocal Nationals Park crowd behind him, his intensity rises to another level.
"You can't get too caught up in trying to pitch a complete game, because that's hard to do," Scherzer said. "You're just trying to go out there and give seven innings. Seven innings, 105 pitches, that's a good outing. So for me, that's kind of what I was shooting for. At least finish seven. The fact that they made those first-pitch outs, that was the reason I was able to go the distance."
With his dominant outing, Scherzer outdueled opposing starter, right-hander Julio Teheran, and slowed down a hot Braves offense. Atlanta entered the game leading the Major Leagues in runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage in this young season, but they were overmatched by Scherzer.
Howie Kendrick provided the Nats' offense with a two-run double in the first inning. That was more than enough for Scherzer to serve as the stopper for this losing streak.
"He picked us up tonight. He really did," Nats manager Dave Martinez said. "We were able to score some runs early for him, and he went out there and did his thing."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Scherzer steals second: Scherzer has begged the past two Nationals managers to give him the green light to steal second base. So when Martinez said he was OK with it, Scherzer had one reaction.
"Finally," Scherzer said. "I've been yelling at Matt Williams and I've been yelling at Dusty Baker, like, 'Let me go.'"
Well, the situation presented itself in the seventh inning when Scherzer caught Braves right-hander Peter Moylan not paying much attention to him at first base. He took a secondary lead of 33.6 feet, much higher than the MLB average of 21.6 feet. That made up for his foot speed of just 25.5 feet per second (the MLB average is 27) as he took advantage of a ball in the dirt to make it safely without a throw.
"If J-Dub can steal a base, so can I," Scherzer said, making a nod to his former teammate, Jayson Werth.
Martinez presented Scherzer with second base after the game, which was next to his locker in the clubhouse -- a worthy trophy from a memorable night.
Kendrick puts Nats on the board: One of the keys for the Nationals during their four-game winning streak to start the season was putting runs up in the first inning and making the other team play from behind. On Monday, they got on the board early again. Following a double from Anthony Rendon and a walk to Bryce Harper, Kendrick pulled a pitch just down the third-base line for a double to drive in both runs.
Kendrick would exit the game in the eighth inning after telling Martinez that his leg tightened up, although Martinez said it was for precautionary reasons.
"Honestly, I knew he was gonna do it. We've talked about it for a week now. He's gung-ho. He loves to play the game. We talked, said, 'Hey, if a guy plays behind you and you think you've got a chance ... but please, don't get hurt sliding.' He said, 'I've got the best pop-up slide in baseball.' And he showed it." -- Martinez, on Scherzer's stolen base
Stephen Strasburg will try to slow down a high-powered Braves offense during the middle game of this three-game set on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET. After Strasburg posted the lowest home run rate in the Majors last season, he was tagged for a pair of home runs in his most recent outing against the Mets, allowing four runs in six innings.