Ren­don gives Nats big lead, bullpen nearly gives it back

NA­TION­ALS 10, REDS 7

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JORGE CASTILLO

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.

JOHN MINCHILLO/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

An­thony Ren­don, who fin­ished 3 for 3 with two walks and six RBI, hit a grand slam in the seventh.

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