Strug­gling to the max

Dodgers get only four hits and strike out 17 times, 14 of them against Scherzer.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Andy McCul­lough

At any moment, in­side any game, Wash­ing­ton ace Max Scherzer can pick be­tween four pitches. When the ar­se­nal blends prop­erly, the mix­ture bor­ders some­where be­tween un­fair and un­kind. His curve­ball dis­ap­pears when op­po­nents swing. His changeup dis­rupts tim­ing. He can tog­gle the ve­loc­ity on his slider to run away from right-handed hit­ters and jam up left-handed hit­ters. And his fast­ball of­ten jumps be­yond 95-mph as the game pro­gresses.

On Tues­day night, in a 2-1 loss to the Nationals, the Dodgers con­fronted an elite per­former op­er­at­ing with full mas­tery of his gifts. Scherzer struck out 14 Dodgers in seven in­nings, yield­ing only one run as he squashed his hosts. He de­fused al­most ev­ery threat he faced and dis­armed bat­ters with his four-pitch blend.

“When he has an op­por­tu­nity to face us, he’s go­ing to bring his best,” man­ager Dave Roberts said. “And he did tonight.”

Af­ter Scherzer de­parted, the Dodgers could not touch Wash­ing­ton’s vul­ner­a­ble bullpen, which added three strike­outs. The only fire­works oc­curred af­ter the game. Yasiel Puig struck out with the ty­ing run at sec­ond base in the ninth. As he walked to­ward his dugout, he glared at Nationals re­liever Koda Glover. Glover said some­thing to Puig. Puig ap­proached Glover and catcher Matt Wi­eters. The benches emp­tied, and both sides soon dis­persed.

Puig did not make him­self avail­able af­ter the game. Glover kept his ex­pla­na­tion suc­cinct.

“He was star­ing at me,” Glover said. “I didn’t like it. It is what it is.”

The dom­i­nance from Scherzer off­set a strong ef­fort from Dodgers starter Bran­don McCarthy. Af­ter an out­ing short­ened by a blis­ter last week, McCarthy per-

mit­ted two runs in seven in­nings. The Nationals got only three hits against him but ex­ploited the open­ings pre­sented to them. The Dodgers had only four hits all night.

McCarthy re­ported no trou­ble caused by the blis­ter on his right in­dex finger. He thrived de­spite ad­ver­sity at the out­set. He logged seven in­nings for only the third time since sign­ing with the Dodgers in 2015.

Dur­ing last Oc­to­ber’s play­offs, Nationals short­stop Trea Turner ex­as­per­ated the Dodgers with his legs. He dis­played his speed in Tues­day’s first in­ning. He reached on an in­field sin­gle when Lo­gan Forsythe de­layed a throw as McCarthy moved through his line of vi­sion. Turner stole sec­ond, stole third without a throw and scored on a sac­ri­fice fly by Bryce Harper.

McCarthy blamed him­self for not vary­ing his tempo on the mound, which al­lowed Turner to time his de­liv­ery. “I made some re­ally bad men­tal er­rors in let­ting that run score,” McCarthy said. “From that point on, I felt like the qual­ity was good. I made most of the pitches I needed to make.”

The Dodgers evened the score in the bot­tom of the in­ning. They ben­e­fited from an er­ror by Nationals sec­ond base­man Daniel Mur­phy. Af­ter a lead­off sin­gle by Chase Ut­ley, Mur­phy fum­bled a po­ten­tial dou­ble-play grounder hit by Corey Sea­ger. Two bat­ters later, Adrian Gon­za­lez volleyed a 97mph fast­ball into right field for a ty­ing sin­gle.

Like Clay­ton Ker­shaw did last week, Scherzer will record his 2,000th strike­out this month. Scherzer en­tered the evening ranked third in the ma­jors among start­ing pitch­ers with 11.64 strike­outs per nine in­nings. And that was be­fore he struck out nine in the first three in­nings Tues­day.

“We weren’t able to get much more af­ter the first in­ning,” Gon­za­lez said. “Scherzer did a good job.”

In the third, Scherzer cre­ated an open­ing for the Dodgers. He is­sued walks to Ut­ley and Gon­za­lez. On an 0-2 pitch to rookie Cody Bellinger, Scherzer fired a 94mph fast­ball down the mid­dle. Bellinger never tried to swing. It was strike three — only Wi­eters muffed the re­cep­tion. “It was lit­er­ally the best pitch I’ve seen in I don’t know how long,” Bellinger said. “And I just took it.”

With the bases loaded af­ter the passed ball, Scherzer struck out Chris Tay­lor with a suc­ces­sion of slid­ers that darted down and away. “When he gets ahead, he’s go­ing to wipe you out,” Roberts said.

Wash­ing­ton took the lead in the fourth. Harper hit a ground-rule dou­ble to open the in­ning, went to third on a ground­out and scored on Mur­phy’s sac­ri­fice fly.

Scherzer dis­armed a sim­i­lar threat in the bot­tom of the in­ning. Puig lashed a one-out dou­ble on a fast­ball. Scherzer re­sponded by strik­ing out McCarthy, and Ut­ley stranded Puig by fly­ing out.

The stress on Scherzer did not re­sult in runs. But he did need 72 pitches to com­plete four in­nings. The bullpen looms as Wash­ing­ton’s pri­mary flaw, a sev­en­man tin­der­box. Scherzer re­solved to limit their ex­po­sure.

In the fifth, sixth and sev­enth, he op­er­ated within the widen­ing strike zone of um­pire An­gel Her­nan­dez, who re­warded Scherzer with his 13th strike­out on a 3-2 fast­ball to Bellinger that ap­peared to be out­side. An in­ning later, Scherzer fooled pinch-hit­ter Austin Barnes for strike­out No. 14.

“Some­times you’ve got to tip your cap,” Bellinger said. “And that’s just what it was tonight.”

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

MAX SCHERZER DE­LIV­ERED from the start against the Dodgers, strik­ing out nine in the first three in­nings and wind­ing up with 14 strike­outs. “When he gets ahead, he’s go­ing to wipe you out,” Dave Roberts said.

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