From the moment he arrived in Washington, Max Scherzer has been a dominant force. He came to the Nationals as one of the best starters in baseball, the winner of the 2013 American League Cy Young Award. In his first year in the National League, Scherzer has gotten better. He has a 1.93 ERA over 93 1/3 innings. He is tied for the major league lead with 113 strikeouts. His 0.88 walks-and-hits-per-innings-pitched tops all starters. His 8.07 strikeout-to-walk rate is the second-best in baseball. Opponents are hitting .195 against him, third best in the majors.
And Sunday was the shining example of Scherzer’s season. He flirted with perfection until a broken-bat bloop single by Carlos Gomez in the seventh. He certainly pitched like he was capable of a no-hitter or perfect game. He set a Nationals and personal record with 16 strikeouts. He notched his second complete-game shutout. Only three balls reached the outfield. He was, in every sense, dominant.
“He was awesome,” second baseman Anthony Rendon said. “He was fun to watch. He was nasty.”
“He was unbelievable,” right fielder Clint Robinson added. “So many swings and misses. So many strikeouts. I didn’t get any action out there in the outfield today, which is always a good thing. He was incredible.”
Was Scherzer’s start the best in Nationals history? By some objectives measures, a case could be made that it is. Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on the final day of the season last year is more historic and will likely remain the best start in Nationals’ history to many. But the Marlins hit the ball harder, including on the final diving play by Steven Souza Jr. to preserve it. No Brewer came close to making contact that good against Scherzer.
“It takes some luck to throw a no-hitter or perfect game,” he said.
What if Souza hadn’t caught that Christian Yelich flyball last season? What if Rendon had snared Gomez’s blooper? What if the Nationals infield alignment had been different? What if the Nationals hadn’t played Gomez, a strong hitter to the left side, to pull the ball?
Asked if he was disappointed about losing the perfect game on the bloop single, Scherzer said: “I wasn’t. You move on.”
Of his 119 pitches, Scherzer induced 27 swings and misses, the most by any pitcher this season. Thirteen of the 16 strikeouts were swinging, a sign his stuff was untouchable. Scherzer is the third pitcher all-time to toss a one-hit shutout with 16 or more strikeouts and one walk or less; the other two are Nolan Ryan and Kerry Wood.
“I’ve caught pitchers with the same velocity as him and with good pitches, too,” catcher Jose Lobaton said. “But he throws his pitches where he wants them. A pitcher with has the same movement with all of his pitches is hard to hit. He’s one of those. That slider, he throws it like a fastball. It’s hard for any hitter to see the pitch. They think it’s a slider.”
Scherzer thought he had jammed Gomez enough to induce a weak popup. He did but Gomez, who apologetic after the game, was able to lift it to right field and Rendon couldn’t reach it.
“I thought it was just gonna hang,” Scherzer said. “I thought there was a way for Rendon to get back there. It’s just one of those things. It fell in. Nothing you can do
Bill James’s Game Score offers a way to compare Scherzer’s start to other starts. Stephen Strasburg’s 14-strikeout debut in 2010, although breathtakingly dominant, doesn’t rank among the top Nationals’ starts because he allowed four hits and two runs over seven innings. Here’s how it works:
— Start with 50 points
— Add one point per out
— Add two points per inning completed inning after the fourth
— Add one point per strikeout
— Subtract two points per hit
— Subtract four points per earned run
— Subtract two points per unearned run
— Subtract one point per walk
Scherzer’s masterpiece adds up to a 100 score. Zimmermann’s no-hitter scores a 96 because he notched 10 strikeouts and walked one. Zimmermann’s two-hit, 12-strikeout shutout in June 2014 rates a 95. So far, Zimmermann has four of the best starts in Nationals’ history according to Game Score.
In fact, Scherzer’s performance ranks highly all-time, too. Only 10 pitchers have notched a 100 Game Score or better in a nine-inning start all time: Wood (20-strikeout one-hitter is the highest at 105), Ryan (three times), Clayton Kershaw (no-hitter, 15 strikeouts), Matt Cain (perfect game), Sandy Koufax, Brandon Morrow, Randy Johnson (perfect game), Curt Schilling and Warren Spahn. For a better look at the list, click here.
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NATIONALS MINOR LEAGUES
Syracuse 7, Columbus 4: Scott McGregor allowed three runs on eight hits over five innings. Matt Grace allowed one run on two hits in one inning. Jose Valverde notched his second save. Jason Martinson homered and Darin Mastroianni drove in two.
Harrisburg 4, Trenton 2: Dakota Bacus gave up two runs on three hits over five innings. Bryan Harper, Adel De Los Santos and Sam Runion combined for four scoreless innings. Pedro Severino and Wilmer Difo both notched two hits.
Frederick 9, Potomac 7: Phillips Valdez allowed nine runs, seven earned, and walked four over 2 2/3 innings. Tyler Mapes fired 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief. Narciso Mesa went 3 for 4. Isaac Ballou went 0 for 4 but drove in two runs.