PHILADELPHIA -- The groin injury that had sidelined Max Scherzer did not seem to slow him down in his return to the mound Tuesday night -- nor did the three umpire checks for foreign substances.
A visibly agitated Scherzer battled his way through five innings of one-run ball to lead the Nationals to a 3-2 win over the rival Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Pitching for the first time since departing his June 11 start after only 12 pitches, Scherzer struck out eight and allowed only two hits -- one of which was a solo homer to former teammate Bryce Harper. He did, however, walk three batters while running his pitch count up to 106.
After a 30-pitch second inning that began with Harper’s second-deck homer to right field, Scherzer settled in to retire eight of the final 10 batters he faced. The lone exceptions were Andrew McCutchen reaching on an error to start the fourth and Brad Miller working a seven-pitch walk later in that same inning.
"I can throw a bullpen [session] all day long and tell you I'm great, but you never truly know how the groin is going to respond to a game situation,” Scherzer said. “So I wasn't able to really get into my legs and start going after some fastballs until the fourth and fifth."
Sure enough, two of Scherzer's three fastest pitches came in the fifth. His final offering of the night -- a fastball to strike out J.T. Realmuto on the eighth pitch of the at-bat -- registered at 96.2 mph.
“I think earlier, he wasn't trying to step on it,” manager Dave Martinez said. “As he got going and pitched more innings, he started progressing and he started throwing the ball really well. Typical Max, he had all his pitches working. He threw some really good pitches."
The high pitch count ended Scherzer's night a bit earlier than he may have hoped, but he managed to pack plenty of action into his five frames. Scherzer was checked -- and cleared -- by the umpires at the end of both the first and third innings, and then again with one out in the fourth, at the request of Phillies manager Joe Girardi.
Though Scherzer walked the next batter, he responded by getting Ronald Torreyes to fly out and Travis Jankowski to pop out to escape a two-on, one-out threat. The three-time Cy Young Award winner then finished his night by retiring the top of the Phillies' lineup in order in the fifth, capped with the strikeout of Realmuto.
As Scherzer left the game, he exchanged words with Girardi from afar, leading to Girardi being ejected after Philadelphia’s manager appeared to challenge him.
"I wasn't heated, I was just trying to show I have absolutely zero on me,” Scherzer said. “I have nothing on me, check whatever you want. I'll take off all my clothes if you want to see me. I have nothing on me."
Despite the unusual circumstances, one thing remained constant: Scherzer had the Phillies’ number. With his latest win, Scherzer improved to 12-3 with a 2.45 ERA in 21 starts against the Phillies since joining the Nats. That includes a 7-1 mark to go with a 2.41 ERA in 10 starts at Citizens Bank Park.
“I don't think he had his best stuff tonight, but he made pitches when he needed to and kept us in the game. He didn't let it rattle him,” said shortstop Trea Turner, who avoided injury on his ninth-inning collision with left fielder Josh Harrison. “That's why he's a Hall of Famer. That's why he dominates each and every year. No matter what somebody is gonna try to do to him, he's going to continue to do his thing and be good for us.”