WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer goes through stretches where it seems like every one of his starts has a chance to be historic. He is in one of those stretches.
On Tuesday, in the opener of a two-game interleague series against the Cleveland Indians, Scherzer had a no-hitter through six innings, but he got hung with an “L” as the Washington Nationals fell 3-1. The outing, in which he allowed three hits and struck out 10 over seven frames, was the latest in a string of stellar starts that has helped the Nats’ ace reaffirm his status as one of baseball’s most dominant hurlers.
After a shaky beginning to the season in which he posted an ERA north of four over the first two months, the former Cy Young winner has been on a tear. Since the beginning of June, the 32-year-old righty has lasted at least six innings in all 13 of his starts and has gone at least seven innings in 10 of those. Over that time, he ranks first among National League starters in WHIP (0.76), second in ERA (1.79), third in K’s per nine innings (11.8), and second in K/BB ratio (6.9). The fact that he was able to continue that run against a Cleveland team that ranks fourth in the majors in scoring and has historically given him fits wasn’t lost on Scherzer.
“That’s a tough lineup,” said the nine-year vet, who spent five seasons in the American League Central with Detroit and came in with a career 4.42 ERA against the Indians. “I’ve battled those guys for years. Tonight, to be able to throw the ball as well as I did against them, that really shows me that I’m throwing the ball well.”
Another sign of Scherzer’s current groove is his recent improvement when it comes to keeping the ball in the park. In his first dozen starts this season, Scherzer — who was haunted by the home run during the second half of last year — served up an eye-popping 16 gopher balls. In his past dozen starts, he’s cut that in half, allowing just eight homers. Even though he’s still given up more taters than any hurler in the NL, his ability to limit the long ball lately has clearly made a difference.
Given how effective Scherzer has been on the mound, you’d expect Washington to pile up the W’s when he pitches, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case. Coming into the series opener against Cleveland, the Nats were a relatively ho-hum 6-4 in Scherzer’s past 10 starts, thanks to an inconsistent offense that had scored four runs or fewer in all but two of those outings. On Tuesday against the Tribe, it was more of the same.
With a surprisingly boisterous Cleveland contingent in the stands for the Indians’ first-ever game at Nats Park, right-hander Trevor Bauer stifled the home team to the tune of four hits over 6 1/3 scoreless frames. Even after he exited, things didn’t get much better, as the lone run the Nationals scored came courtesy of a Jayson Werth solo homer off of recently acquired All-Star reliever Andrew Miller. After exploding for 37 runs over a four-game stretch last week, Dusty Baker’s ballclub now has scored one run in each of its past three contests.
“We couldn’t muster too much offense,” Baker said. “We hit a couple balls hard, but they hit a couple balls hard, also. And so it was a well-played and well-pitched game. They just outplayed us tonight. Sometimes you get beat, and sometimes you lose.”