PHOENIX -- For Friday's game to begin so abruptly was a stunning sight, considering how dominant Nationals ace Max Scherzer has been this season. He had seemingly improved from his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2016, and began this game with an ERA of 2.01 and 183 strikeouts, which both led the National League.
But the D-backs jumped on Scherzer for back-to-back-to-back home runs to begin the Nats' 6-5 loss at Chase Field. David Peralta, A.J. Pollock and Jake Lamb began the game with a barrage, marking the first time in Scherzer's career he had surrendered three consecutive home runs and the first time any pitcher had done so in Nationals history (2005-present).
After the last homer landed in the seats in right-center field, Scherzer regrouped and managed to turn what began as a disastrous outing into a serviceable one. He battled through five innings and gave up five runs on eight hits but struck out nine.
"They had a great game plan against me," Scherzer said. "This is a great start to learn from. I had four pitches today. I was using them. They beat me. ... That's what you get. Sometimes in this game, you get punched in the face. And you've got to be able to take it and learn from it. And this is a great opportunity for me to learn from, because there's things I did today that you could tell they were keying on."
Part of what makes Scherzer one of the best pitchers in baseball is his ability to take any start, good or bad, and figure out how he can learn from it. Entering the game, Scherzer had given up 0.87 home runs per nine innings, the second best mark in the NL. In 2016, he surrendered the most home runs in the NL, cutting down on his Achilles' heel from a year prior.
None of the pitches Arizona hit for home runs were clear misses right over the plate, and yet he still expected better with his location. Especially because he felt as if the D-backs had keyed in on his location and were ready to be aggressive.
"I know that these guys had a really good game plan," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "[Scherzer's] not necessarily a guy where you wanna drive up high pitch counts and get him out of the game, because the next thing you know he might retire nine or 10 in a row and you're in the sixth or seventh inning."
Still, Scherzer locked in after a four-run first inning and eventually found his groove. He retired 11 of the final 13 batters he faced to give the Nationals five innings and at least soften the blow on the bullpen. Even if he was not completely satisfied after the game, it was a small victory for the Nats and gave them a chance to nearly complete a comeback in the game.
"When you give your team five innings, you don't really feel good about five innings," Scherzer. "But sometimes, I say this when you have a good game, the last 15 pitches kind of determine how you feel. Well, the last 15 pitches today were good. Sometimes you've got to take that and move on."