Struggling to the max
Dodgers get only four hits and strike out 17 times, 14 of them against Scherzer.
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.”
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.