Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper and starter Max Scherzer earned National League Player of the Month and Pitcher of the Month awards, respectively, Wednesday afternoon, the first Nationals to win the award in the same month since the Nationals came to D.C. in 2005.
The Nationals flourished in May, rejuvenating their season, winning series after series. Harper’s 13-home run month sparked the surge, and Scherzer punctuated it with weekly mastery, pitching to a 1.67 ERA in six starts. Teammates do not often dominate simultaneously. The same roster has not provided the league’s pitcher and player of the month since July 2008, when Brewers’ outfielder Ryan Braun and starter C.C. Sabathia did it.
“We all certainly hope it continues for the month of June, too,” Nationals Manager Matt Williams said. “They had great months. They gave us — Bryce on an every day basis and Max every fifth day — gave us a chance to win games. So I’m proud of them, I’m happy for them. I know neither one of them will rest on that month, because we’re staring at another one.”
Harper had one hit in his first 17 May at bats, one hit in five games. Then he hit three home runs in one game against the Marlins, and never looked back. He hit two more the next day, and a walkoff the next, and one of the most prolific months in Nationals history carried on over the next few weeks. He finished with 13 home runs — a Nationals single-month record — 28 RBI, 22 walks, two stolen bases and 24 runs scored. He reached base at least twice in 12 consecutive games. Harper is only the second Nationals position player to win the award. Jayson Werth has won it twice.
“That’s what makes it great,” said Scherzer, of winning the award with Harper. “He had a month for everybody to recognize. It was really fun to sit there on the bench and watch him do what he does. It’s great that we were both able to accomplish that.”
Scherzer carved up his new National League competition, though pitched so decisively that blaming his opponents’ lack of familiarity might belittle his efforts. He went 5-1, one of two National League pitchers to throw 43 innings or more in the month. He won five consecutive starts and struck out 13 Cubs in his last effort of the month, which consisted of seven shutout innings. Chad Cordero, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, and Stephen Strasburg are the other Nationals pitchers to have won the award since the franchise relocated from Montreal.
“You just get consistent. You get locked in with your mechanics and prepare to continue to execute your scouting report,” Scherzer said. “Keep going out there and trusting your stuff. Knowing when to throw a strike and knowing when to throw a ball for a strike out, trying to generate a swing and miss. It’s just having confidence, knowing your ability to be able to do that”
So far, Harper is off to a better start in June than he was in May, 3 for 7 with three hits and an RBI. Scherzer allowed four runs in six innings on Tuesday.