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Scherzer's outing derailed by shaky command

Righty hit hard by Braves in first, worked from behind most of day
MLB.com @JamalCollier

ATLANTA -- Through the first turn in the Nationals' rotation -- as their high-powered offense had excelled -- their top four starters followed suit with strong performances of their own. But right-hander Max Scherzer battled throughout his outing during Wednesday afternoon's 7-1 loss in the series finale against the Braves.

Scherzer struck out seven, but too often when he got to two-strike counts, he was not able to put away opposing hitters with the same finality that he so routinely displays. That ran his pitch count up to 110 pitches (71 strikes) in five innings as he gave up five runs (two earned) on six hits with a pair of walks.

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ATLANTA -- Through the first turn in the Nationals' rotation -- as their high-powered offense had excelled -- their top four starters followed suit with strong performances of their own. But right-hander Max Scherzer battled throughout his outing during Wednesday afternoon's 7-1 loss in the series finale against the Braves.

Scherzer struck out seven, but too often when he got to two-strike counts, he was not able to put away opposing hitters with the same finality that he so routinely displays. That ran his pitch count up to 110 pitches (71 strikes) in five innings as he gave up five runs (two earned) on six hits with a pair of walks.

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"I didn't have good put-away pitches," Scherzer said. "I got to two strikes and just didn't seem to put guys away. That led to at-bats kind of getting extended. They were able to grind out their at-bats and get hits on pitches that later in the at-bat I didn't execute as well."

Scherzer nearly escaped the first inning unscathed after a two-out double from Freddie Freeman, but an error from Wilmer Difo at second base helped extend the inning. That set Preston Tucker up to hit a three-run home run in the first inning for a second consecutive day. The runs were unearned in the first, but the Nationals' ace continued to work through shaky command through the rest of the outing.

"It was just a regular ground ball," Difo said through an interpreter. "I tried to field it and make the play, and unfortunately it didn't come out that way. I tried my best to make the out. Just keep working and not let that happen again."

Video: WSH@ATL: Scherzer plates Severino with an RBI knock

Scherzer started the third and fourth innings with walks, and the Braves made him work into deep counts all afternoon. He helped himself out with an RBI single in the second inning and got an assist from a spectacular diving catch from Adam Eaton in the third. But Scherzer could not keep Atlanta off the board. He gave up a two-run double in the fourth inning to Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz.

Video: WSH@ATL: Statcast™ measures Eaton's four-star catch

"I saw Max grinding it out and showing his competitiveness and not giving in," Nats manager Dave Martinez said. "He left a couple pitches up … you saw Max get to 110 pitches and grind it out and try to keep us in the game."

The Braves were able to neutralize Bryce Harper for the first time this series Wednesday, as he went 0-for-3 with two walks and his first two strikeouts of the season. Harper had homered in the first two games of the series and finished the three-game set 2-for-8 with seven walks.

"Usually I think with me and him, he gets a hit or I walk him," Foltynewicz said. "It's either one, so I was just going to attack him today."

The Nationals still escape this season-opening road trip 4-2 as they head home to Washington for their home opener on Thursday afternoon.

"Good road trip. It's a good start," Martinez said. "We get on a plane tonight and we go open up at home and have a lot of fun."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Foltynewicz doubles home a pair: Even as the Braves ran up Scherzer's pitch count, he had held Atlanta to those initial unearned runs in the first inning until the fourth. After a leadoff walk and a single, he nearly escaped the jam until Foltynewicz tagged him for a two-run double into left field to extend the Braves' lead to 5-1. It was the first extra-base hit Scherzer has surrendered to a pitcher since his Major League debut in 2008 when Jamie Moyer tagged him for a double.

"Sometimes, you gotta tip your hat when you get grinded," Scherzer said. "That's what you face with this team. This team is always grinding me. It's always a battle with me. It's not surprising they put that approach to me. It's just, usually if I can get to my counts, usually I can at least collect an out. I wasn't able to do that. They continued to fight off pitches. Like I said, it'll be a good challenge next time out because I'm facing them again."

Freeman freezes Zimmerman: The Nationals brought the tying runs to the plate when they loaded the bases in the sixth inning. Seeking their best offensive opportunity of the day, Martinez pinch-hit for catcher Pedro Severino, initially with Brian Goodwin, who is left-handed, and the Braves countered with left-hander Sam Freeman. But Martinez countered again with first baseman Ryan Zimmerman off the bench, but he was called out on strikes on a full count after Freeman painted the top of the strike zone with a fastball to end the threat.

"We just played the matchups," Martinez said. "We're trying to come back. Perfect opportunity. You're just going to use Zim to pinch-hit and that was the perfect spot for him. ... So we took a chance to try to put some big runs on the board."

WHAT'S NEXT
After starting the season on a six-game, seven-day road trip, the Nationals return to Washington for their home opener on Thursday afternoon. Bryce Harper and Eaton will play in front of the home crowd at Nationals Park for the first time as they look to continue their fast start with Stephen Strasburg on the mound. First pitch is at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Max Scherzer