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Saving Grace: Lefty steps up, gives Nats lift

Pitcher delivers 4 1/3 scoreless innings in place of injured Scherzer
MLB.com

SAN DIEGO -- Matt Grace knew he could give at least three innings. It was far more than he expected to pitch when Friday began.

In place of Max Scherzer, who was scratched and placed on the 10-day disabled list with left neck inflammation, Grace pitched a career-high 4 1/3 scoreless innings in the Nationals' 7-1 victory against the Padres. The left-handed reliever learned he would make his first career start slightly before batting practice and tried to keep a regular routine.

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SAN DIEGO -- Matt Grace knew he could give at least three innings. It was far more than he expected to pitch when Friday began.

In place of Max Scherzer, who was scratched and placed on the 10-day disabled list with left neck inflammation, Grace pitched a career-high 4 1/3 scoreless innings in the Nationals' 7-1 victory against the Padres. The left-handed reliever learned he would make his first career start slightly before batting practice and tried to keep a regular routine.

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"Just tried to treat it as bullpen appearance or coming out in a normal situation," Grace said. "I threw beforehand. I didn't do anything that a normal starter would do."

Grace was last a regular starter in 2012 for Class A Advanced Potomac. His only start since then came in April when he pitched three innings in a spot start for Triple-A Syracuse. Then, he had a day's notice.

"He threw the ball great," Scherzer said. "To be able to do that in a bind, for him to go out there and give us 4 1/3, that's exactly what we needed. I really put the bullpen in jeopardy tonight and for him to be able to deliver what this ballclub needed, that really did a number for our team."

Video: WSH@SD: Nats' booth on Scherzer being scratched

Grace and manager Dusty Baker hoped for a three-inning outing, but Grace pitched efficiently. He retired the first six Padres, with Michael Taylor's leaping grab at the center-field wall to deny Yangervis Solarte a home run opening the second inning.

Austin Hedges' leadoff single in the third did Grace no harm after a sequence of strikeout, sacrifice bunt and groundout followed.

Pitching in a fourth inning for the first time, Grace allowed a single to Carlos Asuaje and walked Jose Pirela to begin the frame.

Baker said before the game he hoped Grace would be able to use double plays to keep his pitch count down, and the one time Grace needed one, he got it, as Solarte pounded a grounder to third baseman Anthony Rendon to start an around-the-horn double play. Andrew Stevenson chased down Wil Myers' liner to right to end the fourth.

Video: WSH@SD: Stevenson turns on the jets for running grab

Grace took the mound in the fifth as Baker sought a lefty-lefty matchup against Cory Spangenberg. It worked in Washington's favor, as Spangenberg grounded out to Rendon to complete Grace's night.

He exited to an ovation from Nats fans behind the team's third-base dugout, having thrown 52 pitches, one shy of his career high. In his first outing since Sunday, Grace dropped his ERA to 3.84.

"Do what you can to contribute," Grace said. "I haven't really felt like I've been contributing much as of late, so to take advantage of that opportunity and at least do something for a team win there was nice."

"He's a guy that has done everything we've asked him to do," Baker said. "He's started, he's gone long, he's gone middle, he's gone short. Basically keep the ball in the ballpark, throws ground balls, throws strikes and is getting better. He has pitched his way onto the team. He's doing a great job."

Nathan Ruiz is a reporter for MLB.com based in San Diego.

San Diego Padres, Matt Grace