Rendon gives Nats big lead, bullpen nearly gives it back
NATIONALS 10, REDS 7
cincinnati — Dusty Baker was taking a risk when he chose to pinch-hit for Max Scherzer in the seventh inning of the Washington Nationals’ 10-7 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday night.
The Nationals (54-36) were nursing a four-run lead, and Scherzer had thrown just 95 pitches across six scoreless innings, fewer pitches than he had thrown in all but one of his 18 previous starts. He logged an inning in the All-Star Game four days earlier, but he surely could have gone another inning Saturday if asked, which would have reduced the chances of the Nationals suffering through another bullpen fiasco. A four-run cushion with nine outs remaining was not exactly safe with that relief corps, a three-month sample size suggests.
But Baker pulled the plug on his ace, sending rookie Adrian Sanchez to the plate to hit for him after Ryan Raburn led off the seventh with a home run. The gamble was soon forgotten. Sanchez lined out against right-hander Michael Lorenzen, but seven of the next eight batters reached base, capped by Raburn’s second hit — a single to center field — in the seven-run inning.
Anthony Rendon’s grand slam, his second home run in four innings and 18th this season, served as the biggest blow in the outburst, which gave the Nationals at Reds Today, 1 p.m., MASN2, WUSA-9
Nationals their 16th output of at least 10 runs — two more than their previous club record. Almost every run was necessary because even a 10-run lead almost wasn’t enough for the Nationals’ bullpen.
Left-hander Enny Romeo struck out the side in the seventh on 15 pitches. But then Austin Adams was assigned the eighth inning for his major league debut, which Baker had said he hoped would happen in the lowest-leverage situation possible. A 10-0 game in the eighth inning was it. The right-hander faced five batters, allowed a hit and two runs, walked two batters, hit another, threw a wild pitch and didn’t record an out before Baker removed him. It was a complete disaster. And it was better than Trevor Gott’s night.
Gott, the other reliever called up Friday, also didn’t record an out when he pitched in the ninth. Instead, he faced five batters — two of whom had entered the game as defensive replacements during the blowout — and all scored. The last three crossed the plate on Scooter Gennett’s threerun home run.
Earlier, Daniel Murphy had two hits, including his major league-leading 30th double in the fourth inning, which drove Bryce Harper in with two outs for the game’s first run. Murphy then scored on Rendon’s first home run, a two-run blast. Rendon finished 3 for 3 with two walks and the two home runs.
Baker watched the All-Star Game while vacationing at Deep Creek Lake and, no different from the rest of the audience, marveled at Scherzer’s intensity. At the grunting with each pitch. At the words to himself, most of them probably unsuitable for family television. It was the trademark passion Scherzer displays every fifth day, only in a game lacking any consequence.
“You could tell the way he was getting after it for that one inning,” Baker said. “Man, he’d be a heck of a closer.”
Maybe Baker was daydreaming a bit. But that, of course, isn’t the best use of the resource. Scherzer is one of the top three pitchers in the world, and talents in that stratosphere are optimally used gobbling as many innings as possible.
Scherzer entered Saturday second in that category across baseball, and he passed Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw for first with his six-inning effort. It didn’t appear as if he would last that long early on. It wasn’t that Scherzer wasn’t overpowering. He compiled six strikeouts in two innings. The Reds (39-51) didn’t record an out that wasn’t a strikeout until the third inning, when Adam Duvall popped out to the shortstop for the second out. Scherzer finished that inning with two more strikeouts.
The problem was the turbulence that welcomed Scherzer at the beginning of each frame. In the first inning, Billy Hamilton doubled on Scherzer’s first pitch of the night, and Zack Cozart followed with an eight-pitch walk. In the second, Eugenio Suarez led off with a walk. In the third, Hamilton hit a lead-off single and stole second base before Cozart worked a 10-pitch walk.
Scherzer maneuvered out of the trouble each time in dominant fashion, stockpiling those eight strikeouts in three innings out of the stretch. But he also threw 62 pitches. The Reds were on pace to chase Scherzer early without scoring a run. But Scherzer, as he usually does, settled in to dismiss the Reds in a more efficient fashion, tossing 33 pitches over the next three frames. He allowed two base runners during the stretch and added two strikeouts, giving him 10 on the night to counter a season-high four walks. It was his 12th double-digit strikeout performance in 2017 and ninth in his past 10 starts.
Baker’s early call to the bullpen created some drama, but Matt Grace ultimately replaced Gott to record three straight outs in the ninth, and the Nationals absorbed the near meltdown thanks to that seven-run frenzy.
Anthony Rendon, who finished 3 for 3 with two walks and six RBI, hit a grand slam in the seventh.